Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally assured Jordanian King Abdullah by phone Thursday afternoon that the status quo on the Temple Mount would remained unchanged.
“We agreed that we’ll make every effort to calm the situation,” Netanyahu said after the two leaders spoke. Over the past day, Israel has sent this diplomatic message to governments around the world.
The pledge to maintain the religious status quo atop the Temple Mount followed weeks of continued Arab and Jewish violence in Jerusalem, including two vehicular terror attacks that claimed three lives and the attempted assassination of right-wing activist Yehudah Glick.
In response to the violence, Israeli police closed the Aksa Mosque to Muslim worshipers last Thursday, and again for 15 minutes early Wednesday morning. On Friday, Jerusalem Police plan to restrict Muslim prayer on the site, barring men under the age of 35.
Those actions, in addition to increased calls by right-wing politicians to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount and to impose Israeli sovereignty there, rang alarm bells across the Arab world, particularly in Jordan, which considers itself the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Aksa Mosque compound is under the control of the Jerusalem Islamic Wakf. Under this arrangement, only Muslims can pray in the compound, but Jews and Christians can visit the area.
Jordan, typically Israel’s staunchest ally in the region, recalled Ambassador Walid Obeidat to Amman on Wednesday for consultations. It also asked the UN Security Council to hold Israel accountable for damage the mosque sustained when Israeli Border Police worked to quell a riot there Wednesday morning.
“One of the major things that angers the Jordanian state and people is the Israeli behavior in Jerusalem,” said Mohammad al-Momani, a Jordanian minister and government spokesman. “On the one hand, we are trying to combat terrorism and extremism, and on the other hand, we are confronted with this reckless behavior.”
On Thursday, Netanyahu assured Abdullah that Israel respected his family’s special relationship to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
“I explained to [Abdullah] that we’re keeping the status quo on the Temple Mount and that this includes Jordan’s traditional role there, as consistent with the  peace treaty between Jordan and Israel,” Netanyahu said. “We have to make every effort to restore calm, quiet and security. But I think we have to make that effort throughout the world.”
According to Mark Regev, spokesman for Netanyahu, “Anyone who says otherwise is representing his own opinion, not that of the government.”
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington that the US was concerned by reports of escalating tension and violence and of damage to al-Aksa Mosque.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki warned: “If Israel will continue in the current policy this will lead to an unknown confrontation based on a religious background, which will not stay in al-Aksa or Jerusalem but will move the confrontation out of Palestine [to the Islamic world].”
On Thursday, Israeli Arab protesters continued to clash with Border Police in Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Netanyahu held a second round of emergency consultations in which a range of actions to deal with the situation were considered, including the demolition of family homes of terrorists and administrative orders distancing those involved in violence from Jerusalem.
Over the past few days, both Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman have accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas of inciting the situation in Jerusalem. Liberman also charged that those with extremist Islamic views – who also pose a danger to Jordan – were spreading false stories about Israeli actions at the compound.
But Netanyahu and Liberman have also both urged right-wing politicians to stop visiting the site and using inflammatory language.
“If you have paid attention, neither I, nor members of my [Yisrael Beytenu] party have gone up to the Temple Mount,” Liberman told Army Radio. “We have not issued calls for Israel to exercise sovereignty there.”
He chastised those from the Bayit Yehudi and Likud parties who have visited the Temple Mount in recent weeks.
“Our problem is that people who incite and who shout, are those who do not do,” he said. “They only know how to light a flame and to exploit a situation for their own political gains.
I am in favor of wise policy. I am in favor of acting and not shouting. You have to act wisely in this region.”
“What needs to happen now,” Liberman added, “is for calm to be restored [in Jerusalem].”
Liberman told Army Radio Israel must start demolishing the homes of terrorists in Jerusalem.
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, one of the strongest Knesset advocates for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, said those who “point their finger at public representatives who follow the law and want to maintain Israeli sovereignty at the heart of its capital...
are giving a prize to terrorism and guarantee its escalation.”
Feiglin said by this logic, first prime minister David Ben-Gurion was a pyromaniac for declaring the establishment of the State of Israel and bringing the War of Independence.
“Israeli society needs to decide if it is willing to pay the price for maintaining sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the entire land,” he added. “The weakness being shown in dealing with the Temple Mount reflects on the whole country.”
Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who visited the Temple Mount earlier this week, said Liberman does not understand that Palestinians want to change the status quo on the holy site and forbid Jews from ever entering.
“It is not acceptable that representatives of the Jewish majority in Israel agree to losing Israeli sovereignty and discrimination in the holiest place for the Jewish people,” she stated.
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) told Israel Radio that “even Liberman understands that ministers and MKs ascending the Temple Mount is a stupid act that poisons the atmosphere.
The Israeli government must understand this, take responsibility and do what is necessary to stop the violence in Jerusalem before it leaks out of Jerusalem and spreads to the rest of the country.”Lahav Harkov and Reuters contributed to this report.
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