US Secretary of State Antony Blinken worked to restore calm to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Old City in a series of telephone calls on Tuesday with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders, in advance of a visit this week by an American delegation.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr will visit Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt over the next eight days returning only on April 26.
"Good to speak" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Blinken said after the Tuesday calls, asking that both Israelis and Palestinians take steps to "de-escalate" tensions.
Blinken in talking to Lapid "reiterated the Administration’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security and condemned recent rocket attacks from Gaza."
Lapid "emphasized Israel’s responsible and measured efforts in the face of riots by hundreds of Islamic extremists on the Temple Mount.”
He explained to Blinken that it was “falsehoods and disinformation spread by extremists that are fanning the flames of violence instead of bringing about calm. I told [Blinken] that Israel will not tolerate calls in support of violence, and I emphasized the need for international support for returning calm to Jerusalem.”
Lapid cut short his vacation in Madrid and returned to Israel late on Tuesday because of the unrest, which began with Ramadan prayers on Friday and has continued with five straight days of Palestinian riots.
Palestinians clashed with the IDF in the West Bank on Tuesday, and a rocket fired from Gaza toward Israel was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system on Monday night.
The religious sensitivities surrounding the overlap of Ramadan with Passover have made the situation particularly volatile.
The Arab world, including the Palestinians, has been concerned that Israel is breaking the status quo on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, by allowing Jewish prayer there.
Israel insists that it is maintaining the status quo by which Jews can visit the Mount but not pray.
The violence over the last week has created a ripple effect in neighboring Jordan and in the West Bank. It has also created tensions with Israel’s other regional allies including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the midst of repairing his ties with Israel, has worked to restore calm.
He spoke with President Isaac Herzog after holding calls with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week.
“In this sensitive period, I would like to emphasize once again the necessity of not allowing provocations and threats against the status and spirituality of the Aqsa Mosque,” Erdogan said. “I repeat my call for everyone to make the utmost effort to preserve the spirituality and sanctity of this blessed place and days.”
Herzog’s office said that Erdogan “reaffirmed that contrary to false reports, the State of Israel is careful to maintain the status quo and freedom of worship, especially during this period.”
He explained that “members of all religions – Jews, Muslims, and Christians – may celebrate their holidays safely.”
In a statement to the media, Defense Minister Benny Gantz also affirmed that Israel “maintains the status quo on the Temple Mount, [and] will not allow terrorists or provocateurs to harm the holy places.”
Jordan, which has a special custodial relationship with the Temple Mount as administrators of the Wakf Islamic religious trust, was not assuaged. On Monday, it summoned Israel’s ambassador, who was out of the country. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi spoke instead with Israel’s deputy ambassador, Sami Abu Janeb.
The United Arab Emirates used its newly forged ties with Israel that are less than two years old to weigh in on the matter. Its Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s Ambassador Amir Hayek on Tuesday.
Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem bin Ebrahim Al Hashimy told Hayek that Israel must preserve the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque, and “expressed concern over the escalation of tension that threatens stability and security in the region,” according to her office.
Abbas told Blinken during their call on Tuesday that Israel was violating the status quo in the Aqsa Mosque compound, both through its police action and by allowing Jewish prayer at the site.
He also asked the US to reopen its Consulate General in Jerusalem, which had served as de facto embassy to the Palestinians until the Trump administration closed it in 2019.
Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon that would lead to an end to the Israeli occupation of the land of the State of Palestine, with east Jerusalem as its capital,” according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA. “The president warned that the continuation of the Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities, villages and camps, the killing of our people and other brutal attacks, will lead to dire and unbearable consequences.”
In his conversation with Safadi and Abbas, Blinken underscored the importance of the status quo, which prohibits Jewish worship on the Temple Mount. He also spoke of the need to maintain Jordan’s special custodial role with respect to the site, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
Blinken and Safadi “discussed the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to end the cycle of violence by refraining from actions and rhetoric that further escalate tensions,” the State Department said on Tuesday.
“Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and appreciation for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s special role as custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The secretary reaffirmed the US commitment to stability in the region and support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
In New York, on Tuesday, the 15-member UN Security Council held a closed-door session called by Norway, the UAE, Ireland, France and China, but the meeting ended without any conclusions.
UNSC members Norway, France, Albania and Ireland, joined by former UNSC member Estonia, issued a joint statement after the meeting calling for “calm and de-escalation” and urged maximum restraint.
PA Ambassador to the UN in New York Riyad Mansour called for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli police from the Aqsa compound and the release of those arrested. He also called for international protection for Palestinians.
“We always expect from the Security Council more than what they do,” Mansour said, but there was unanimous support for the status quo, but this was “not enough.”