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In first meeting of FMs in years, Jordan urges Israel to resume peace talks

Ayman Safadi tells Gabi Ashkenazi of need to maintain Temple Mount status quo; Gantz calls on Palestinians to negotiate: ‘Don’t remain behind’

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee Lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee Lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi at the Allenby Bridge border crossing Thursday, according to both the Israeli and Jordanian foreign ministries.

The meeting was the first between the two, and the first time in years that the top diplomats of the two countries have had an official sit-down.

A statement released by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said Safadi and Ashkenazi discussed “a number of pending concerns, including water rights, lifting restrictions on Jordanian exports to the West Bank, Jordanian provision of additional electricity to the Palestinian Authority, and organizing movement through border crossings in light of their closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Jordan also said Safadi told Ashkenazi that “Israel must stop all of the moves that endanger the chance of peace with the Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution,” and called upon Israel to halt what he called provocative actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and to respect the historical status quo.

Safadi’s office also said he emphasized the need to restart bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in light of the PA’s recent decision to resume security coordination with Israel.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi speaks during a joint conference with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit in the Jordanian capital Amman on January 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the meeting, but declined to provide further details.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday called on Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

“The entire Middle East is changing, and substantial regional processes are moving forward, including [Israel’s] normalization agreements with Arab nations, that are helping… develop the region’s economy and its stability.

“Don’t remain behind. It is first and foremost your interest to integrate, to come back to the negotiating table, and to create a horizon and hope for the coming generations.”

In a Wednesday Zoom conference focused on the Middle East hosted by an Italian research organization, Safadi said he hoped Israel would use the opportunity presented by the Abraham Accords — the normalization deals between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — to further the peace process with the Palestinians.

Safadi told the conference that the incoming government of US President-elect Joe Biden said it would take steps that would allow the peace process to begin again.

He said: “Normalization does not need to be a replacement for a solution to the conflict, rather it should give Israel motivation to continue pursuing peace,” adding that Israeli actions in the West Bank and statements of Israeli politicians have “undermined” the peace process thus far.

Safadi’s comments about provocations at the Temple Mount and respect of the historical status quo there may perhaps be best understood in the context of the widely reported — though not officially confirmed — November meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi city of Neom.

The meeting signaled warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh that have reportedly raised concerns in Amman that Israel could seek to shift custodianship over the Temple Mount from the Jordanians to the Saudis.

A protective face mask is left on the ground during the Eid al-Adha prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy has been the custodian of the site since 1924, and does so through the Waqf, a Jordanian-appointed council which oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

The Waqf claims exclusive authority over the Temple Mount compound and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction. Tensions often escalate at the site.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the Biblical Temples. It is the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam. Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 war, and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. However, it allowed the Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, and Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray there.

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