Kerry: Israel, Jordan agree on steps to reduce Jerusalem tensions
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Kerry: Israel, Jordan agree on steps to reduce Jerusalem tensions

Following meeting in Amman with Netanyahu and Abdullah, US envoy says time is not right for Israelis, Palestinians to renew talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, November 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, November 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

The trilateral meeting in Amman between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the recent surge of violence in Jerusalem ended Thursday evening, with Kerry issuing a statement praising the sides for their commitment to reduce tensions surrounding the Temple Mount.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah a-Sissi was updated on the meeting by phone, according to a report on Israel Radio.

The top US diplomat said Netanyahu had “strongly reaffirmed his commitment to uphold the status quo on Temple Mount,” while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Kerry met earlier in the day, restated his “commitment to non-violence and to restoring calm” in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not attend a meeting among Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Kerry said it was “not the right moment” for Abbas and Netanyahu to meet.

Kerry said Abbas told him would do “everything possible to prevent [further] violence.”

“We must create a climate where we can move forward in a positive and constructive way,” Kerry said at a press conference with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh following the summit.

“There is an urgent need to address these greatest tensions, and an imperative need to uphold the status quo at the Temple Mount,” he said, adding that the sides must take “take affirmative steps to prevent violence and incitement.”

However, Kerry said that it was not the right time for Israel and the Palestinians to come together to renew talks.

Kerry also praised the “enormously constructive role of Jordan in trying to resolve these challenges.”

He said Israel and Jordan, which has custodial rights at the Temple Mount, had also agreed to take steps to “de-escalate the situation” in Jerusalem and to “restore confidence”.

A senior Israeli government official told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu spoke about the urgent need to stop the incitement that was leading to the violence — incitement promoted by radical Islamists and by Palestinian Authority officials.

Netanyahu further told Kerry and Abdullah that a diplomatic process was important but did not go hand in hand with the irresponsible incitement against Israel, the source said.

The prime minister said the dissemination of false information about an alleged change to the status quo on the Temple Mount must be stopped, and that the Arab press was publishing reports that were out of touch with reality

Judeh said Kerry was “now attempting to repave the way for coming back to negotiations and to stop unilateral actions and measures” — a key point for Jordan which is interested in seeing a new process that would lead to the renewal of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which broke down in April. Abdullah reportedly conveyed this message to Kerry during the meeting.

Jordan’s foreign minister also said that Amman would review its decision to recall its envoy to Israel based on Israel’s implementation of its commitments to restore calm, according to Haaretz.

The Temple Mount — the holiest site in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam — has been a source of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, tensions which have led to a number of violent clashes between security forces and Palestinian demonstrators, four terror attacks and an attempted assassination of a Temple Mount activist in just under a month.

Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden from praying at the contested site, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, but where it allowed the Muslim Waqf authorities to remain in administrative charge.

The summit in Amman commenced at 7:00 p.m., only hours after fresh clashes broke out in East Jerusalem, where Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian demonstrators, who hurled stones and other objects at security forces in the city.

Earlier Thursday, Kerry met with Abbas for talks aimed at calming tensions in the region.

Kerry and a somber-looking Abbas embraced and had a brief whispered exchange as they met at the Palestinian leader’s hillside home in Amman, where US and Palestinian flags hung in front of a large nighttime photo of Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his residence in Amman on November 13, 2014 (Photo credit: AFP/POOL/Nicholas Kamm)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his residence in Amman on November 13, 2014 (Photo credit: AFP/POOL/Nicholas Kamm)

Ahead of Kerry’s arrival, Abdullah met Abbas in Amman for talks in which he expressed his “total rejection” of Israel’s “repeated aggressions and provocations in Jerusalem,” a palace statement said.

Much of the unrest in Jerusalem has been fueled by settlement activity in the city’s eastern sector and by religious tensions at the Temple Mount compound. Abbas on Tuesday warned that the Palestinians will not allow Israeli extremists to “contaminate” the Temple Mount, and said that allowing Jewish prayer at the site would risk a global religious war.

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.

Israeli security forces have chased rioters who fled into the al-Aqsa mosque on several occasions, but Israel denied a claim last week that troops went deep into the mosque. Israeli forces say the Palestinians store rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails inside the mosque for use in violent protests.

Israeli security forces walk near Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque in the Temple Mound, November 5, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli security forces walk near Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock mosque in the Temple Mound, November 5, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Israel closed the Temple Mount for one day two weeks ago following the attempted assassination of Rabbi Yehudah Glick and the killing of his shooter during an arrest operation, a move that drew sharp condemnation from Palestinians, the Jordanian government and others.

Since the site opened again to Jewish visitors, several right-wing MKs have visited the site, contending that it is their democratic right to do so, despite a plea from for calm and restraint.

Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged not to change the status quo and allow Jewish prayer at the site.

AP contributed to this report.

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