WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump and King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke by phone Friday about the crisis in recent weeks surrounding the Temple Mount, the Royal Hashemite Court announced.
A statement in Jordanian state media said the king thanked Trump for his administration’s role in helping to defuse tensions and stressed the importance of deepening US-Jordan ties “to avoid the recurrence of such crises.”
The call marks the first time Trump has personally injected himself into the crisis that has spurred violent protests, deep tension between Israel and the Palestinians, and a diplomatic imbroglio between Israel and Jordan.
“Both leaders said they were encouraged by the efforts taken to de-escalate tensions and by the progress that has been made,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “They pledged to continue to stay in close communication. President Trump also emphasized Jordan’s important role in regional security.”
Jordan, the custodian of the Temple Mount, and the Palestinians pressured Israel to remove security measures at entrances to the sensitive holy compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary. These were set up after a July 14 terror attack in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers with weapons they had smuggled onto the site.
The introduction of the new Israeli security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, set off near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It also triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the installations were removed.
Israel removed the new measures early Thursday, and Muslim worshipers returned to pray at the compound later that day. Friday prayers at the site ended peacefully.
Last week, five Palestinians died in weekend clashes and a Palestinian terrorist killed three members of a family sitting down to Shabbat dinner in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
A diplomatic dispute also erupted between Israel and Jordan this week after the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard near the Israeli embassy in Amman, including a teenager who had stabbed the security officer in what the Foreign Ministry said was a nationalistically motivated attack.
Jordan had demanded the guard be questioned by its security forces, but Israel refused to hand him over, citing his diplomatic immunity. Only after US intervention did Amman relent, allowing the guard and the rest of the embassy staff to leave Jordan.
Following their return on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the Jordanian monarch and the US president for their efforts in securing the staff’s safe passage back into Israel.
Jordan, however, was angered by Netanyahu’s warm welcome of the guard, who has been named only as Ziv, with the king calling for him to be tried. Abdullah accused Netanyahu of “political showmanship” and of using “this crime to score personal political points,” after the Israeli leader posted photos of himself embracing the guard.
The monarch said this episode would have a negative impact on bilateral ties between Amman and Jerusalem.
On Thursday, Jordan charged the guard with murder in absentia. It went on to say the Israel embassy staff would not be allowed to return until a proper investigation was conducted. On Friday, Jordan gave Israel the results of its investigation into the shooting, and called for the guard to be prosecuted under international law.
Later on Friday, Israel announced it was opening a probe into the incident.
While Trump sent one of his top envoys, Jason Greenblatt, to the region earlier this week to try to reduce tensions, he himself has not yet spoken to either Netanyahu or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Greenblatt, for his part, met with Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on Monday before heading to Amman for more meetings on Tuesday.
A senior administration official told The Times of Israel that “President Trump and his administration are closely following unfolding events in the region,” and praised Netanyahu for his handling of the situation and said the White House team had been working with him.
“In our continuous contacts with him throughout the crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted with a clear sense of responsibility not just for Israel’s security, but also for regional stability,” the official said.
In another statement Thursday, Greenblatt said the US welcomed the efforts to restore calm, saying he hoped it would help renew an opening for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — which Trump has made a major priority as president, saying he intends to achieve the “ultimate deal.”
“The United States welcomes the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem today,” he said. “We believe that calm and security will create the best opportunity to return to dialogue and the pursuit of peace.”
The fate of the Temple Mount is an emotional issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions.
Jews revere the hilltop compound as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.
But the walled compound is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.