Ben Gvir said to bar Netanyahu aide from police meeting on Ramadan preparations

Amid tensions over his demands to restrict Muslim access to Temple Mount, far-right minister’s office says meeting is just between him and law enforcement officials

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir will reportedly block a representative of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from attending a police discussion on preparations for Ramadan, a day after the government appeared to reject a proposal to curb Muslim Israeli from being able to worship at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount holy site.

Ben Gvir’s office swiftly denied that it was snubbing Netanyahu, saying the discussion was intended to be an “internal meeting” between the minister and police officials.

On Wednesday, the war cabinet reportedly sidelined Ben Gvir and ruled it alone would make decisions regarding policy at the Temple Mount over Ramadan, amid fears his push to impose sweeping restrictions on visits by Palestinians and Arab Israelis at the flashpoint site could spark unrest.

“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in al-Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.

He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as freedom of worship, into account.

The move has aggravated tensions between the ultra-hawkish Ben Gvir and the war cabinet, which comprises Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, sparking fears of a tug of war over control of police policy, the Ynet news site reported.

Ben Gvir denied Netanyahu’s request to send a representative to the meeting between the minister, his associates, and police officials, officials aware of the details told Ynet.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet with the troops who participated in the hostage rescue operation in Gaza on February 12, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A Channel 12 report Wednesday, which did not cite any specific sources, said the war cabinet decided that no sweeping restrictions on Arab Israelis would be imposed over Ramadan and that it would be the sole body to make decisions regarding policy at the flashpoint site.

A Ben Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to refute the Channel 12 report.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, and is the third-holiest site in Islam. Attempts to restrict Muslim access, especially during holidays, have sparked tensions and unrest in the past.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims crowd the site for prayers each Ramadan, which starts around March 10 this year.

Police, according to Channel 12, will be tasked with determining the cap for Muslim worshipers at the compound based strictly on safety concerns.

Muslim worshipers attend the morning Eid al-Fitr prayer, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 2, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The Wednesday report also said that 50,000 to 60,000 worshipers will be allowed at the site initially, and the number will be expanded if there are no security incidents.

Ben Gvir has been pushing for a more hardline approach to Gaza and the Palestinians in general, alongside Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party. The two previously advocated for the “voluntary” migration of Gazans during the war and have also threatened to bolt the coalition if a “reckless” deal were reached with Hamas on releasing the hostages.

In an apparent jab at the far-right minister Tuesday, Gallant warned against “irresponsible statements from people who are supposed to be responsible” that could result in a rapid escalation of tension and expressed concern that Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas sought to “ignite the ground” over Ramadan, with an “emphasis on the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.”

Earlier in February, a US official and an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration is highly concerned that Ben Gvir could spark tensions at the Temple Mount during Ramadan.

Jacob Magid and Reuters contributed to this report.

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