Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday expressed discomfort with the policy against Jews praying on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, even though the Israel Police is instructed to enforce that ban.
“I don’t feel comfortable [with] the idea that Jews don’t have freedom of religion in the State of Israel and that Jews are banned from what they think is a holy site,” he said in a briefing to the foreign press.
At the same time, Lapid said police have “strict instructions... to make sure the status quo remains, and the status quo means Muslims can pray on the Temple Mount, and other religions cannot.”
“There is no change,” he said. “There will be no change. We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions.”
Israel’s policy is to maintain the status quo, Lapid said. He denied that the police have turned a blind eye to quiet Jewish prayer at the site, despite copious documentation of even groups of Jews praying together on the Temple Mount in recent years.
“The policy has not changed,” Lapid said. “I have had more than one conversation with the police inspector-general about this. If someone is slipping through the cracks, it should not happen, but it does happen.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden discussed the efforts to stop the violence and incitement in Jerusalem.
“The President took note of ongoing efforts between Israeli and Palestinian officials to lower tensions and ensure a peaceful conclusion to the holy season of Ramadan,” the American readout of the call read.
Biden had accepted an invitation to visit Israel over the coming months, the White House said.
“The two leaders emphasized the strong personal bond they have developed since the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington last summer,” the White House said. “This personal relationship has animated the work of our diplomatic and national security teams, enabling both countries to arrive at common positions on difficult matters.”
Lapid said in the briefing: “The biggest problem we are facing is these rumors” reported by the media... An unbelievable amount of fake news and altered videos that have gone viral [found their] way into the mainstream media.”
He called on “Muslim moderates” and leaders of Muslim states to act against the disinformation to help ensure calm and maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount.
“Terrorist organizations have been trying to hijack al-Aqsa Mosque to create an outbreak of violence in Jerusalem and, from there, a violent conflict across the country, Lapid told foreign media.
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad extremists burst into al-Aqsa Mosque in the early morning again and again,” he added. “They brought weapons into the mosque. They threw rocks and explosives from within it and used it as a base to incite violent riots.”
The terrorist groups intentionally wanted to force the Israel Police to enter the mosque and further incite against Israel, Lapid said.
“The only reason the police have twice entered the mosque in recent weeks to remove them is because at the same time, tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers began arriving at the Temple Mount,” he said. “If you do not remove the rioters immediately at the start, it leads to much greater violence later. The moment the rioters were removed, the police left and ensured prayers could take place in peace.”
There were 200 to 300 Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists on the Temple Mount, while 95,000 peaceful Muslim worshipers prayed on the Temple Mount on Saturday and hundreds of thousands during Ramadan thanks to Israel’s efforts, Lapid said.
The only thing that disrupted Saturday’s prayers was a Hamas rally featuring calls to murder Jews, he said. “That is Hamas’s prayer: an antisemitic call for the slaughter of innocents,” he added.
Israeli and Jordanian officials held talks about the riots in Jerusalem in recent days, after Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh said he “praises every Palestinian and Jordanian Islamic Wakf [religious trust] worker who stands tall like a turret and those who throw rocks at the pro-Zionists who are defiling al-Aqsa Mosque while under the security of the Israeli occupation government.”
Lapid said the discussions were about Khasawneh’s “vocabulary and wording” and that of Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, as well as ways Jerusalem and Amman could work together to restore calm on the Temple Mount.
“Israel has made substantial efforts to stop Jewish extremist elements,” he said, adding that the “security services had ensured no provocations were carried out.”
Bennett and Biden also discussed shared regional and global security challenges, “including the threat posed by Iran and its proxies,” according to the White House statement.
Bennett spoke out against Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
“I am sure that President Biden, who is a true friend of Israel and cares about its national security, will not allow the IRGC to be removed from the list of terrorist organizations,” he said. “Israel has clarified its position on the issue: The IRGC is the largest terrorist organization in the world.”
Lapid said Israel was reconsidering its promise to double the number of workers allowed in from the Gaza Strip following the recent rocket fire.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for attacks on our territory,” he said. “Before Ramadan, we announced that if this period would pass quietly, we would double the number of work permits from Gaza to 20,000... In light of recent events, we will have to examine this decision carefully.”