Meeting lawmakers, envoy hails US role in ending Temple Mount crisis
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Meeting lawmakers, envoy hails US role in ending Temple Mount crisis

Rebuffing claims that administration entered too late, David Friedman says work between US, Israel, Jordan helped defuse situation 'very quickly'

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) and MK Nachman Shai at a meeting of the caucus for US-Israel relations at the Knesset, July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) and MK Nachman Shai at a meeting of the caucus for US-Israel relations at the Knesset, July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Tuesday hailed the US administration’s role in helping end an Israeli-Jordanian standoff over tensions at the Temple Mount and an Israeli Embassy guard who killed two Jordanians after one of them tried to stab him with a screwdriver.

Speaking as a guest of the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel relations, in his first appearance at the Israeli parliament, Friedman said he relished the opportunity for the US to play a role in resolving the dispute, describing Monday as a “14” on a scale from 1-10.

“Because we had a real opportunity to see how effectively and closely our two countries work; because we had a situation in Jordan which was potentially something that could have gone very badly,” he said. “And with no fanfare, but a lot of hard work and behind-the-scenes discussions by the senior officials in the US and, of course, the prime minister [of Israel] and the king of Jordan, we were able to defuse a situation very quickly.”

In a flurry of diplomatic activity late Monday and early Tuesday, Jordan agreed to release the guard despite previously insisting he be investigated and possibly prosecuted. Hours later, Israel’s government voted to remove metal detectors and cameras at entrances to the Temple Mount that had touched off a fresh round of violence, despite being installed after a terror attack using guns that had been stashed at the holy site.

In a gentle reproach to US President Donald Trump, opposition leader Isaac Herzog thanked the new US ambassador for the administration’s efforts, but recommended that Washington get involved sooner the next time there is a major crisis in the region.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaks at the lobby for strengthening ties with the Jewish world at the Knesset, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaks at the lobby for strengthening ties with the Jewish world at the Knesset, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We want to express gratitude for the involvement of the US and President Trump’s involvement in the recent crisis. As a friendly recommendation, I think sometimes the involvement should be earlier than expected. Because when things simmer and broil, in the end there is a tendency that it explodes in the region. And that [exacts] a price,” Herzog (Zionist Union) said.

Replying to Herzog, Friedman said it was “important to get ahead of things,” but added that he thought the administration did exactly that and “defused the situation very quickly.”

On Sunday evening, with Israeli-Jordanian tensions already sky-high, an Israeli security official working for the Israeli embassy in Amman was attacked by a 19-year-old Jordanian wielding a screwdriver. Seeking to defend himself, the Israeli shot the attacker and wounded a second Jordanian citizen, who later died of his wounds.

Israel said the security official — identified only as “Ziv” at this time — was safe from arrest and interrogation according to the Vienna Convention for Diplomatic Relations. But Jordanian authorities initially refused to let the Israeli leave the country, stoking fears of a major crisis between Amman and Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Jordanian King Abdullah on Monday and sent Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman to Amman to help resolve the crisis. Also on Monday, Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt arrived in the region to help broker an agreement. He met with Netanyahu and later headed to Jordan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the phone with Israel's ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlein, and the security official who was stabbed and shot two Jordanians, on their return to Israel, July 24, 2017 (courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the phone with Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlein, and the security official who was stabbed and shot two Jordanians, on their return to Israel, July 24, 2017 (courtesy)

Late Monday evening, the Israeli security officer returned to Israel. Shortly after that, the security cabinet voted to remove metal detectors from the Temple Mount, a move Jordan had demanded since Israel erected them following a July 14 terror attack at the site, which was carried out with firearms smuggled onto the Mount.

In his remarks, Friedman, who is an observant Jew, referred to the date, noting that religious Jews all over the world this week mark the beginning of the month of Av, during which the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem were destroyed in antiquity.

“We have to recall the destruction of the temple that occurred on Tisha B’Av, especially of the Second Temple, which people know was destroyed because of gratuitous hatred among the Jewish people,” he said.

L-R: US President Donald Trump's envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO)
L-R: US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Friedman, whose last major public appearance also focused on Jewish unity rather than US policy, went on the recall the legend of the Roman General Titus preparing to destroy Jerusalem, but being told there was no need to rush because the Jews were already killing each other.

“So at this time of the year, it is important to recognize just how important it is, for the Jewish people, for people who support Israel and for people who share the values of Israel and the values of the United States, to listen to each other and respect each other and to work together,” Friedman said.

At the event, hosted by MK Nahman Shai, the co-chair of the Caucus for US-Israel relations, Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum addressed the new American envoy, many with particular requests.

Hawkish MKs tried to convince Friedman that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was unrealistic and that the US should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Their dovish colleagues expressed opposite views.

Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran (courtesy)
Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran (courtesy)

MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union) voiced misgivings over the US quitting the Paris climate agreement, and MK Oren Hazan complained that it took him about a month before he could get a visit to the US.

Friedman did not reply to the parliamentarians’ comments. He merely stated at the end that the Trump administration remains committed to help broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I will think about everything I heard,” he said, adding that he was surprised how civil and respectful the debate had been. “Maybe this was just a good day, I don’t know,” he said. “But I was impressed.”

The Knesset Caucus for US-Israel relations is co-sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which seeks to promote understanding between the two countries.

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