Israel will not change its policies on the Temple Mount, the Prime Minister’s Office made clear on Wednesday, a day after a Knesset debate on the issue triggered angry political reactions in the Arab world.
“The policy of the government of Israel has been and continues to be the maintenance of the status quo at the Temple Mount, including freedom of access for all faiths to the holy sites,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, told The Jerusalem Post. “The government has no intention of changing this policy.”
Regev’s comments followed Tuesday’s Knesset debate – the first of its kind by Israeli lawmakers – on Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the restrictions imposed on non-Muslims who want to enter the site. The debate was accompanied by disturbances on the Temple Mount, with Arab youths throwing rocks and firecrackers at police officers.
His comments reflect the government’s concern about the sensitivity of the issue, and its desire to soothe anxiety in the Arab world that Israel was on the verge of altering the site’s status quo. Since the Arab riots of 1929, Arab claims of alleged Jewish designs to take over the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount have intermittently triggered unrest and violence.
Since the 1967 Six Day War, the Temple Mount has been jointly administered by the Jordanian government and the Wakf Muslim religious trust. Regev’s comments indicated that those arrangements would remain unaltered.
Likud Beytenu MK Moshe Feiglin, who initiated the Knesset debate, said during the discussion: “Without the Temple Mount we have no home. Not in Tel Aviv, not in Haifa and not anywhere else. There is no purpose and no designation for our sovereign existence in the entire land. The time has come to stop the erosion of our sovereignty in the heart of Jerusalem.”
Arab League representatives met in an “extraordinary meeting” in Cairo Wednesday to discuss the matter, an indication of the degree to which Feiglin’s words and the debate itself irked the Muslim world.
Arab League Deputy Secretary- General Ahmed Ben Helli said Israel’s violations of the Aksa Mosque “have exceeded all marks.” He criticized Israeli officials for permitting “Jewish extremists to storm the holy site,” the Kuwait News Agency reported.
Palestinians requested the emergency session to discuss Israel’s supposed aggression against the mosque, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported.
“If Israel continues this policy, it proves that it does not want peace but continues to violate international laws and resolutions,” the PLO ambassador to Egypt, Barakat al-Farra, said.
In Amman, the Jordanian parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Wednesday to expel Israeli Ambassador Daniel Nevo and recall its own representative to Israel in response to the debate.
Muhammad al-Momani, the Jordanian minister of state for media affairs, said that “attempts to touch the Aksa Mosque” would “undermine the peace treaty” between the countries, the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad reported on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, 47 lawmakers signed a petition calling for an end to the 1994 peace agreement with Israel.
Kirk Sowell, the Ammanbased principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, told the Post that the effort by Jordan’s parliament to cancel the peace treaty with Israel was “not going anywhere.”
“The king gave a big speech a couple of days ago trying to put an end to the national discussion of Jordan as the ‘alternative homeland’ [for the Palestinians], and this bill would have to pass the Senate first, which it won’t, and then the king could veto it, which he would, but he won’t have to,” Sowell said.
He added that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process efforts, combined with the Knesset debate of stripping Jordan of its role in Jerusalem, “has become a massive issue in Jordan and is dominating the parliament, when they’ve got tons of more important things they should be doing.”