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Gantz meets Jordanian king in Amman to discuss tensions amid Ramadan

Defense minister presents steps Israel intends to take to ensure freedom of worship in Jerusalem; Abdullah warns Gantz over need to stop potential ‘provocative actions’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah on March 29, 2022. (Royal Hashemite Court)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah on March 29, 2022. (Royal Hashemite Court)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman on Tuesday to discuss concerns of spiraling violence amid the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, Gantz’s office said.

It was the third meeting between Abdullah and Gantz, with the first happening secretly in February 2021, and a second taking place publicly in January this year.

According to Gantz’s office, the meeting focused on local security and policy topics.

Gantz presented Abdullah with the steps that Israel intends to take in order to maintain freedom of worship for Palestinians in Jerusalem during Ramadan, as well as other moves intended to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, his office said.

Israel recently increased the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel by an additional 8,000, to a total of 20,000.

“The defense minister emphasized to him the importance of maintaining stability and calm, and the overall need to fight terror, and in particular the Islamic State organization, which is behind the recent terrorist attacks in Israel,” Gantz’s office said.

For his part, Abdullah told Gantz that “provocative actions that lead to escalation” must be prevented, the Jordanian Royal Court said.

According to the court, Abdullah reiterated Jordan’s support for a two-state solution. The monarch also pushed for Israel to remove obstacles to Palestinian “freedom of worship” during Ramadan.

“His Majesty stressed that maintaining the comprehensive calm requires respecting the right of Muslims to perform their religious rites in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, removing any obstacles that stop them from performing prayers, and preventing provocations that lead to escalation,”according to the court.

Before meeting the king, Gantz held a bilateral meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. The latter was a notable holdout at yesterday’s Negev Summit, which saw four Arab foreign ministers meet in Sde Boker alongside Israeli FM Yair Lapid.

Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled before a deadly attack in Hadera on Sunday night.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during an event held by his Blue and White party in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israeli ties with Jordan reached a nadir in the past few years, owing in large part to bad relations between Abdullah and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and both sides have worked to improve them in recent months.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made his own secret trip to Amman to meet with the king last summer, shortly after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing in a public meeting. And in August, President Isaac Herzog also traveled to Amman secretly to meet the king.

The secrecy around these meetings typically comes at the request of the Jordanian government, with much of the country’s population opposing close ties between the kingdom and Israel.

During Gantz’s meeting with Abdullah on Tuesday, the minister “wished him and all the citizens of the kingdom a Ramadan kareem ahead of the month of Ramadan, which will begin in the coming days,” according to Gantz’s office.

Gantz and Israeli defense officials held a wider meeting with Abdullah, the Jordanian foreign minister, and other Jordanian officials, before the two held a one-on-one meeting.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev also recently met, in secret, with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

That meeting also focused on efforts to keep the calm in Jerusalem during the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi addresses a panel at the Doha Forum in Qatar’s capital on March 26, 2022. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/MOFA/Doha Forum/AFP)

Israeli security forces are on high alert after two deadly terrorist attacks — in Beersheba last Tuesday and Hadera on Sunday.

But officials are particularly concerned about Jerusalem on Ramadan, where religious tensions have often boiled over into violence.

Last spring saw events in Jerusalem surrounding the Temple Mount and looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood snowball into an 11-day war between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip, as well as significant Jewish-Arab violence in mixed cities.

Fearing a recurrence of that May 2021 violence, the Biden administration has urged Israel to take preemptive actions in order to prevent a similar eruption in April, which will see a confluence of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Ramadan, and the Christian holiday of Easter.

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