Jordan summons Israeli envoy over Temple Mount tension

Parliament in Amman demands ambassador’s ouster and end to diplomatic ties, protesters try to storm embassy

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ambassador Walid Obeidat presents his credentials to Israeli President Shimon Peres, October 17, 2012. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Ambassador Walid Obeidat presents his credentials to Israeli President Shimon Peres, October 17, 2012. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Amman on Wednesday and voiced an “expression of concern” about restrictions imposed by Israel on Muslim worshippers at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The summons came amid calls by Jordanian parliamentarians to sever diplomatic ties between the neighboring states.

Jordanian media reported earlier on Wednesday that parliament voted unanimously in favor of petitioning the government to expel Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Daniel Nevo and recall Jordanian Ambassador in Tel Aviv Walid Obeidat in protest of alleged Israeli desecration of holy sites in Jerusalem.

Shortly after the parliament met, Nevo met with Interior Minister Awad Khleifat, in lieu of absent Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, an Israeli government source told The Times of Israel. Khleifat did not lodge a formal protest with Nevo; rather, he delivered an “expression of concern” about alleged restriction of Muslim worship on the Temple Mount. Israeli police limited access to the holy site on Wednesday — as Israel marked the reunification of the city in 1967 with Jerusalem Day events — following clashes between visitors and Palestinians there a day earlier.

After the vote, several dozen Jordanians congregated outside the Israeli embassy in Amman and tried to enter the compound. Police who were alerted to the scene prevented their advancement.

Despite the parliamentary vote, the government source said, any such call by the virtually powerless parliament would be “legally irrelevant,” inasmuch as the government ultimately dictates foreign policy. A Jordanian media source who spoke to The Times of Israel said that while the vote could only petition the government to act, as Jordan’s sole elected body it better represented the will of the people.

Following the vote, the Jordanian parliament’s Arab and International Affairs Committee drafted a letter to the government which strongly condemned Israel’s “racist action and affirms that these daily and continuing activities by the Israeli authorities and settlers are systemized and pre-planned schemes that reflect the ugly and evil face of extremist Zionists.”

After discussion by the cabinet, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the government “was deeply concerned about the Israeli violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Jordan’s Petra News Agency reported, and accused Israelis of “evil, systemized and pre-planned schemes” against the Muslim holy site.

Ensour instructed the Jordanian ambassador in Tel Aviv to file an official objection to the Israeli government “as a first measure.” Should things escalate, an Ammon News report said, Obeidat would be instructed to petition the United Nations Security Council.

President Shimon Peres reacted quickly to reports of the Jordanian parliament’s call for severed ties, saying, “Peace with Jordan is dear to us — we will respect all the agreements between us and protect the holy sites of all religions.”

The violations in question were restrictions on entry to the Temple Mount plaza imposed by the Israel Police ahead of Jerusalem Day, and the brief detention of the Jerusalem Mufti for questioning, following Tuesday’s riots on the Temple Mount.

According to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, police set up checkpoints at the Temple Mount entrances and “prevented all Palestinian women, and men under 50, from entering.” Normally, restrictions imposed at times of high tension apply only to men under 40, who are seen as more likely to engage in violent behavior.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Wednesday that Muslim worshipers threw rocks and chairs at tourists visiting the contested site Tuesday. Jordanian media accused the police of permitting “dozens of extremist settlers to storm the holy shrine” as well.

Jewish tourists are permitted to enter — but not pray — at the Temple Mount, and security checkpoints are a standard installation at the entrance of the historic flashpoint.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson declined comment on the dispute, saying Jerusalem was looking into the matter and that communication channels with Amman were open.

Last month, a Jordanian MP was dismissed by his party after attending an Israeli Independence Day event at the President’s Residence, and earlier in April 110 Jordanian MPs signed a petition calling for the release of Ahmad Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier who gunned down seven Israeli schoolgirls on a field trip to the “Isle of Peace” border area of Naharayim in 1997.

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