Ben Gvir visits Temple Mount, says it proves Israel ‘in charge’ at holy site

Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and others pan move by far-right police minister, who urges more funds for Jewish settlement in Negev and Galilee to show Israel is sovereign there too

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem Sunday, declaring it a demonstration of Israel’s ownership of the flashpoint holy site and drawing fierce condemnations from Jordan, Egypt and other Arab states.

The last time Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount, in January, there was a furious backlash from the Arab world and Jordan summoned Israel’s ambassador for a dressing down.

“We are in charge here,” Ben Gvir declared as he toured the site. “I am happy to go up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Jewish people.”

Ben Gvir praised the Israel Police for its administration of Jewish visits to the holy site, which, he said, “prove who is in charge in Jerusalem.”

“All of the threats from Hamas don’t matter. We are in charge in Jerusalem and in all of the Land of Israel,” he declared, referring to the Gaza Strip-based Palestinian terror group that has threatened Israel with action if the so-called status quo on the Temple Mount is changed.

Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh called Ben-Gvir’s visit a “blatant attack” on the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry called it “a provocative step that is condemned, and a dangerous and unacceptable escalation.” Neighboring Egypt, which like Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, also issued a condemnation.

Right-wing lawmakers visit the Temple Mount in the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day, May 18, 2023. (Courtesy Temple Mount Authority)

The United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry slammed the “storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque” and urged Israel to “halt escalation and avoid exacerbating tension” at the flashpoint site. Turkey also called Ben Gvir’s visit a “storming” of the site, and said it was a “clear breach of international law.”

The foreign ministries of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which do not have relations with Israel, also released statements fiercely denouncing Ben-Gvir’s trip.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the Mount. Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognized Amman’s “special role… in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”

The site is considered the holiest in the Judaism, as the location of two biblical temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under the status quo, an arrangement that has prevailed for decades in cooperation with Jordan, Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount during certain hours but may not pray there. In recent years, Jewish religious nationalists, including members of the new governing coalition, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, infuriating the Palestinians and Muslims around the world.

During his visit Sunday, Ben Gvir noted his party’s demands for more budgeting to increase the Jewish presence in the Negev and Galilee, alluding to the fact that those areas have large Arab populations.

“In the coming budget we must invest in the Negev and Galilee,” he said. “Jerusalem is our soul, the Negev and Galilee are our life force. We must act there, we must be sovereigns also in the Negev and in the Galilee, and the basis is the budget.”

On Thursday, hundreds of Jewish visitors entered the holy site, including Negev and Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf and MK Yitzhak Kroizer — both from Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party — along with Likud MKs Dan Illouz, Amit Halevi and Ariel Kallner.

Though Ben Gvir did not join them, he did participate in Thursday’s Flag March, an annual parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City by mostly national religious youth that was marred by clashes with local Palestinian residents.

The Flag March and the visits by lawmakers to the Temple Mount drew criticism from Jordan and some of Israel’s allies.

A senior ultra-Orthodox lawmaker in the government coalition asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent ministers or lawmakers from visiting the Temple Mount, citing the security and diplomatic hazards and claiming it was sacrilegious.

In January Ben Gvir paid a visit to the Temple Mount — his first since taking office in the new government — leading to furious condemnations from the Arab world. A day later, Netanyahu met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman and discussed maintaining calm on the Temple Mount, while Ben Gvir vowed to continue to visit the site regardless.

Ben Gvir’s remarks Sunday about the budget came amid last-minute tensions ahead of the financial plan’s approval by the Knesset.

The Knesset is preparing to vote on the 2023-2024 overall budget, allocating NIS 484.8 billion this year and NIS 513.7 billion in 2024, up from NIS 452.5 billion in 2022. Failure to pass the state budget by May 29 would trigger the automatic dissolution of the government and snap elections.

Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party and the ultraconservative Noam party have sought to leverage this fact to issue their own last-minute budgetary demands. Ultra-Orthodox parties are also demanding hundreds of millions of shekels for their own causes and threatening to not back the plan if their request is not met.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ben Gvir has ordered Otzma Yehudit lawmakers to boycott Knesset votes in a bid to pressure allied parties to divert more funds to his party’s priorities in the budget — specifically the Negev and Galilee Ministry held by the faction.

Otzma Yehudit has complained that other parties are receiving billions for their projects while it has been given less for issues it wants to advance, particularly encouraging Jewish settlement in the country’s north and south.

Netanyahu and Ben Gvir met last Wednesday in an attempt to solve the dispute. According to Channel 12, the atmosphere was not positive — Netanyahu told Ben Gvir that there was no way to redirect the funds to his priorities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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