Israel and Jordan have agreed to place round-theclock surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount to discourage violence at the site, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Amman on Saturday.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to what I think is an excellent suggestion by King Abdullah to provide 24-hour video coverage of all sites on the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif,” Kerry said.
“This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency, and that could really be a game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site,” Kerry said.
He spoke immediately after holding separate meetings in Amman with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah. The secretary of state also spoke face-to-face with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Germany on Thursday.
Kerry unveiled what he hoped would be initial steps to quell weeks of violence, in which Palestinians killed 10 Israelis in more than 30 attacks that wounded more than 80 people. Israeli security forces have killed some 25 Palestinian attackers and another 25 rioters during violent clashes in the West Bank.
“Today I hope we can begin to turn the page on this very difficult period,” said Kerry as he called for an end to the violence.
Israel has blamed the violence on false Palestinian charges that it is changing the status quo on the Temple Mount and threatening al-Aksa Mosque.
Kerry alluded to that charge when he said the violence was fueled by false assumptions about what was happening on the Temple Mount.
“Those perceptions are stoking the tensions and fueling the violence, and it is important for us to end the provocative rhetoric and to start to change the public narrative that comes out of those false perceptions,” Kerry said.
But he also issued a general call to leaders to “stop the back-and-forth of language that gives anybody an excuse to somehow be misinterpreted or misguided into believing that violence becomes a viable option. Diplomacy and negotiation are the viable road ahead.”
Kerry did not speak about settlement building. On Saturday night, Netanyahu issued a tweet from his official account in which he denied Palestinian claims of a pending West Bank settlement freeze.
“Contrary to Palestinian assertions, Israel has not made any commitments not to authorize new building in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said.
With regard to the security cameras, an Israeli official said that it is in the country’s best interest to have the security cameras “to refute claims that Israel is changing the status quo. We want to show that Israel is not acting provocatively.”
The official added that Israel has repeatedly committed to maintaining the status quo and looks forward to increased cooperation with the Wakf Muslim religious trust to maintain order at the site.
Kerry told reporters in Amman that Netanyahu has “reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to upholding the unchanged status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif both in word and in practice.”
Israel fully respects the special relationship the Hashemite Kingdom has to the site as outlined in the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, Kerry said.
The secretary of state reaffirmed that no change had been made to the long standing policy in which only Muslims can worship at the site, which hosts al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
“Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy on religious worship at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, including the fundamental fact that it is Muslims who pray on the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif and non-Muslims who visit,” said Kerry.
He added “Israel has no intention of dividing the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and it rejects completely any attempt to suggest otherwise.”
Israel and the Jordanian Wakf plan to strengthen security arrangements and to increase coordination to ensure that visitors and worshipers show restraint and respect for the sanctity of the site, Kerry said.
“We must stress the importance of avoiding provocativeactions and rhetoric, and we must work cooperatively” to restore calm and to return to the “critical effort of achieving a lasting peace.”
But Abbas told Kerry on Saturday that Netanyahu was violating the status quo on the Temple Mount and that he was lying when he stated otherwise, according to PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.
“Before the year 2000, tourists used to enter the Haram al-Sharif [Temple Mount] under the guard of the employees of the Wakf department and non-Muslims were not allowed to pray there,” Erekat said. “But now the Israelis have changed the regulations and tourists visit the site after receiving permits from Israeli authorities and under protection of the Israel Police.”
He and Abbas stressed the need to return to the previous procedures, where the Jordanian Wakf was responsible for the Aksa Mosque and the holy sites, Erekat said.
“Kerry told us that King Abdullah was also opposed to any attempt to divide the Aksa Mosque in time and space [between Muslim and Jewish worshipers],” Erekat said.
“The US remains opposed to any change of the status quo.”
Abbas told Kerry that Israel must stop “settler assaults” against Palestinians as a first step toward ending the current wave of violence, the sources said. He also reiterated his charge that Israel was carrying out “filed executions” of Palestinians.
Abbas also held the Israeli government fully responsible for the violence and called for an international conference to create an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The sources added that Kerry briefed Abbas on the outcome of his talks last week with Netanyahu in Germany.
“Kerry stressed Washington’s opposition to any change of the status quo at the Islamic holy sites,” the sources said.
They quoted Abbas as saying that the Israeli government must adhere to signed agreements with the Palestinians.
He said the Palestinians are now waiting to see whether the Israeli government would take serious measures to calm the situation.
Erekat said that Abbas presented Kerry with five files documenting Israeli “violations and continued assaults against Palestinians, including field executions.”
Erekat said that Abbas demanded during the meeting that the US work toward providing the Palestinians with international protection.
“The Israeli government isn’t defending itself,” Erekat said. “Instead, it is defending settlement expansion while unarmed Palestinians are defending their survival, independence and freedom.”
Abbas also urged Kerry to work toward convening an international conference that would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, Erekat added.
He said that Abbas also holds the Israeli government fully responsible for the current wave of violence because of its policy of expanding settlements, “Judaizing” Jerusalem, as well as land confiscation and “ethnic cleansing.”
Kerry, who met separately with King Abdullah, discussed with him the situation in Jerusalem, efforts to breathe new life into the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the latest developments related to the Syrian crisis, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported.
The meeting also touched on the situation in Iraq, as well as endeavors to fight terrorism and extremism, the agency said.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters that all issues with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially the holy sites in Jerusalem, “touch the very heart of Jordan’s national security.”
“Jordan not only supports but demands that there’s an immediate restoration of calm and an end to all violence and provocative actions,” Judeh said.
The violence, he said, is the result of the larger conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The root cause is the need to have a Palestinian state that lives side-by-side with a secure Israel and all the people in the nations of this world, and in this region in particular, living in peace and security,” Judeh said.