'Israel has no sovereignty over Jerusalem and the holy sites'

Israel draws fire from allies over Flag March, lawmakers’ visits to Temple Mount

UAE, Bahrain, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt condemn ‘storming’ of holy site and Jewish prayers held in violation of status quo; US blasts racist chants at nationalist rally

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Israeli police push away Palestinians from a street in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, shortly before a march through the area by Jewish nationalists, Thursday, May 18, 2023. (AP /Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israeli police push away Palestinians from a street in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, shortly before a march through the area by Jewish nationalists, Thursday, May 18, 2023. (AP /Ohad Zwigenberg)

The United States and nearly all of Israel’s Middle East allies issued statements Thursday condemning Jerusalem over the visits lawmakers made to the flashpoint Temple Mount and the controversial annual march by religious nationalists through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, which was again marred by violence and racism toward Palestinians.

The foreign ministries of Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Turkey each issued statements rebuking Israel over the “storming” of the Temple Mount, which Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary.

The statements by Jordan and Egypt also criticized the decision to hold the so-called Flag March.

The lawmakers who visited the Temple Mount were Negev and Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf and MK Yitzhak Kroizer — both from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party — as well as Likud MKs Dan Illouz, Amit Halevi and Ariel Kallner.

They were also among the nearly two dozen lawmakers who later Thursday attended the Flag March, which is meant to mark Israel’s reunification of East and West Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.

Footage posted online by an activist on Thursday morning showed a Jewish group openly praying on the Temple Mount, contravening informal understandings known as the status quo, under which Jews are allowed to visit the site — at certain hours, under strict restrictions and through a predetermined route — but not to pray there.

Jordan blasted the “provocative actions” as “unacceptable,” noting that they took place “under the protection of the Israeli police.”

Jewish men pray as they exit the Temple Mount site on May 18, 2023 (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Jordan also warned Israel against allowing the “provocative and escalatory” Flag March to go ahead — a warning Jerusalem declined.

“Israel has no sovereignty over Jerusalem and the holy sites, and East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian land,” Jordan said.

As part of their 1994 peace treaty, Israel agreed to recognize Jordan’s “special role” in administering Muslim and Christian holy sites, though Amman considers itself to be a formal custodian, as does much of the international community.

The Jordanian foreign ministry said that all “144 dunams-worth” of the Temple Mount compound are “purely a place of worship for Muslims.”

The Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews, as the location of the two biblical temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount is the third holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major source of tension in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Muslims deny any Jewish connection to the site and view all Israeli presence there as a provocation.

Egypt similarly condemned the Temple Mount visits by Israeli lawmakers as well as the Flag March route through the Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter, which are overwhelmingly used by Palestinians. Critics say the rally is designed to provoke Palestinians, who are forced by the Israel Police to shutter their shops to allow for the demonstration.

As it did in the past two years, the Biden administration ahead of Thursday urged Israel to reroute the march away from the Muslim Quarter. It was an uphill battle though, given that the more moderate, previous government had bucked the request last year, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the same.

Right-wing Israelis clash with Palestinians in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Jerusalem Day, May 18, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The US State Department statement focused on the Flag March, rather than the Temple Mount visits, saying, “We continue to urge all parties to exercise restraint and to refrain from provocative actions or rhetoric that inflames tensions. This certainly includes racist statements and actions, as well as violence.”

“We unequivocally condemn racist language of any form. Hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs’ are outrageous and unacceptable,” it continued. “As President Biden said, ‘Jerusalem is central to the national visions of both Palestinians and Israelis’ and ‘must be a city for all its people.’”

“As Israel’s close partner and friend, we call on the Israeli leadership to condemn such vile language,” the State Department said.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement on Twitter, “We condemn the hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs’ during today’s marches in Jerusalem.”

Different groups of Flag March participants clashed and beat Palestinian locals and harassed journalists. They also sang racist chants such as “Death to Arabs,” “May your village burn” and “An Arab is a son of a b**ch,” as they danced near the Damascus Gate both before and during the rally on Thursday afternoon.

The Egyptian foreign ministry statement largely focused on the Temple Mount visits, which have long sparked criticism from Israel’s Arab allies and foes.

Cairo said the Israeli conduct on Thursday was “aimed at harassing [Palestinian] worshipers and provoking the feelings of the general Palestinian population.”

The al-Aqsa Mosque is a purely Islamic endowment,” Egypt said, urging Israel to respect the status quo and international law.

Turkey’s statement called out the Temple Mount visits by “fanatical Jewish groups under police protection and their attempts to perform prayers in this area, violating once again the historical status quo at Haram al-Sharif,” the Arabic term for the Temple Mount.

“We reiterate our call on the Israeli government not to allow such provocative actions, and to that end, we expect the necessary measures for the preservation of the status quo in the holy places to be taken seriously and without delay,” Ankara said.

In its statement, Bahrain urged Israel “not to prejudice the role of the brotherly Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in managing endowments, caring for and protecting holy sites in accordance with international resolutions, providing full protection for worshipers and stopping any racist or provocative practices that would fuel tension and instability.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (center) and a delegation of his fellow Religious Zionism party lawmakers at the Jerusalem Day Flag March, May 18, 2023. (Courtesy)

Bahrain also stressed its support for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines as well as the Arab Peace Initiative — a somewhat perplexing stance, given that the 2002 Saudi proposal says Arab League members will only make peace with Israel after a Palestinian state is established. Bahrain normalized relations with Israel in 2020, declining to wait for a two-state solution before doing so.

The UAE foreign ministry’s statement “strongly condemned” the Jewish “extremists” who visited the Temple Mount and called for a halt to “serious and provocative violations” of the holy site.

It also called on Israeli authorities “to halt escalation and avoid taking steps to exacerbate tension and instability in the region.”

Notably, the roughly 1,200 Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount were half the number who walked through the site last year.

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