Violence on the Temple Mount could quickly spiral out of control warned US Secretary of State John Kerry, as the United States, Jordan and Israel announced they had a plan in place to restore calm.
“We are working to smother the sparks of immediate tension so that they don’t become a fire that is absolutely out of control,” Kerry said on Thursday after a trilateral meeting in Amman with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdulllah.
After the meeting, Kerry explained that Israel and Jordan had agreed on a mechanism to end the violence in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Al Haram Al Sharif.
He was short on details, except to say that it would ensure that the status quo would be maintained at the holy site.
Such calm is the first ingredient necessary before direct or regional Israeli-Palestinian peace talks can commence, Kerry said.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters that, “the tension in Jerusalem, as you have seen in the last few days, has sparked tension not just in Jerusalem and around Jerusalem, but elsewhere in the West Bank. And this is something that concerns us all,”
“We’ve always warned that Jerusalem is a redline,” he added.
Netanyahu promised to maintain the status quo at the site, Kerry said. He added that both Netanyahu and King Abdullah had pledged to take steps to restore calm.
In the last weeks, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem have been rocked by violent riots, three terror attacks that claimed four lives, and an attempted assassination of right wing activist Yehuda Glick.
Israel’s one day closure of the al-Aksa Mosque
compound on the Temple Mount in response to the assassination, prompted charges throughout the Arab world, including by King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Netanyahu planned to impose Israeli sovereignty on the area.
Netanyahu has stated publicly and privately that the status quo would be maintained, in which, the al-Aksa Mosque Compound is control by the Islamic Wakf and only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Jews and Christians can visit.
The prime minister’s statements failed to constrain the growing accusations in the Muslims world against Israel.
Jordan, which considers itself to be the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations.
The string of events brought Kerry and Netanyahu to Amman on Thursday for an unusual number of high-level meetings and diplomatic conversations between Israel, Jordan and the US. Egypt participated by telephone.
The Palestinians were in Amman on Thursday as well, but they did not join the main trilateral meeting due to tensions between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry, however, held a face-to-face conversation with Abbas and a three-way talk with that also included Judeh. Aside from the trilateral meeting, Netanyahu also held two separate meetings, one with Kerry and one with Abdullah.
At the end of all the meetings, Kerry told reporters, “I think the status quo is clear and the status quo is going to be maintained, and that is what is absolutely vital to the Hashemite Kingdom’s responsibility as Custodian. And the prime minister has made it clear that he will uphold that.”
Judeh told reporters that Jordan took the issue of the Temple Mount seriously and had been very angry over the situation in the last weeks. “When Jordan took a decision to recall its ambassador for consultation, it was a sign that enough is enough. There’s a clear message that went to Israel that something needs to be done,” Judeh said.
He recalled that King Abdullah and Netanyahu had spoken last week and that there have been contact with Israel since then. Jordan has been reassured by Netanyahu’s words, Judeh said.
But it has yet to return its ambassador to Israel, nor did it announce an intention to do so on Thursday.
Before Kerry flew back to the US, a reporter asked him if he trusted Netanyahu to stick to his commitments with regard to the Temple Mount.
Kerry gave Netanyahu his firm backing.
“It was quite clear from the conversation this evening and from prior conversations – which is why Prime Minister Netanyahu traveled over here – that he has deep concerns, as everybody does, about the – about what has been going on in the rise of violence,” he said.
Abbas, he said was similarly committed to calming down the situation. During their conversation, Kerry said, “Abbas strongly restated his firm commitment to nonviolence, and he made it clear that he will do everything possible to restore calm and to prevent the incitement of violence and to try to change the climate.”
Still, he said, in spite of the commitment of both men to change, Netanyahu and Abbas were unable to meet face-to-face at this time.
“It just isn’t yet the right moment for the two sides to really come together at this instant. It’s just not – it’s not the appropriate moment. I think they both need to see that things are changing, and there needs to be what we would call a ripeness, if you will, for that meeting that doesn’t exist at this moment,” Kerry said.
He looked forward to the moment when it would be possible to resume peace talks, Kerry said.
The last US back effort failed in April, as talks broke down at the end of a nine-month negotiating process. Kerry is now attempting to revive those talks and put an end to unilateral actions by the Palestinians or Israel.
During the main trilateral meeting, the three leaders also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about the possible revival the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Jordan said, “a solution to all final status issues – independence, dignity, sovereignty for the Palestinians in the form of a state on their national soil, and security not just for Israel, but for the entire region. I think this is what we are all committed to.”
But no tangible results with the resumption of peace talks, emerged from Thursday’s meeting.
King Abdullah, Netanyahu, Sisi and Kerry also spoke of their common battle against the tide of Islamic extremism sweeping the region, including Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and the civil war in Syria.
Kerry said there was a potential for a “new regional security assistance and arrangements.” The US, Egypt, Jordan and Israel spoke of ways they could work together on a security arrangement to advance their common interests, Kerry said.
Judeh added, “I stressed during my negotiations and talks with Mr. Kerry – that this is the battle of moderate Islam against extremism.”