Netanyahu reportedly met Jordan’s Abdullah over Jerusalem unrest

Kuwaiti daily claims prime minister agreed to call for calm over Temple Mount after secret rendezvous; spokesman denies he went to Amman

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, during the former's surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace/File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, during the former's surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss rising tensions over the Temple Mount, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported Monday.

The two leaders met Saturday to discuss resolving ongoing unrest in Jerusalem, which has seen waves of violence centered around the holy site, the Kuwaiti al-Jarida daily reported, citing unnamed senior Jordanian officials.

The report added that Netanyahu had agreed to temporarily close the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, to Jewish visits in the coming days, and to increase coordination with the Islamic Waqf on managing the site.

Netanyahu also agreed to change the way non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, according to the report.

On Sunday, Netanyahu appealed for calm in Jerusalem, and promised not to change the existing arrangements at the Temple Mount, rebuffing calls to open the site to Jewish prayer in the wake of the shooting of an activist who lobbied for increased Jewish access there.

“I think that what is necessary now is to show restraint and to work together to calm the situation… I also ask that private initiatives be avoided as well as unbridled statements,” he said at a cabinet meeting. “We are committed to the status quo for Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

On Saturday, Netanyahu called on all Knesset members to work to calm tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. Despite the statement, right-wing MK Moshe Feiglin from Netanyahu’s Likud party visited the site on Sunday under heavy guard.

Jewish prayer is banned in the compound, considered the religion’s holiest site. Muslims also revere the area, which houses the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as holy.

According to the Kuwaiti report, Netanyahu’s appeals for calm were the result of Jordanian pressure, as was a statement from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying Netanyahu’s words were “a step in the right direction.”

A spokesperson for the prime minister who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity said he was skeptical of the report and denied Netanyahu had traveled to Amman.

Israel closed the site to Jews and Muslims last week after the shooting of Jewish activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick, fearing increased tensions. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the closure a “declaration of war,” and the US and Jordan also spoke out against the move.

Israel reopened the site to some Muslims the next day and to Jews as well on Sunday. A Jordanian official earlier said Israel had reversed the closure under pressure from Amman.

Tensions over the Temple Mount over the last several weeks have come against rising unrest in some East Jerusalem neighborhoods, with near-daily incidents of rocks being thrown at Israeli drivers and Molotov cocktail attacks. Police have bolstered their presence in an effort to crack down on violence.

Netanyahu has also advanced plans for housing in East Jerusalem, drawing international condemnation. Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and maintains the right to build anywhere in the capital.

On Sunday, Abdullah told Jordanian lawmakers that Amman would work to thwart “unilateral” Israeli moves in Jerusalem.

“Jordan will continue to confront, through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites, until peace is restored to the land of peace,” he said.

Abdullah has been vocal in his criticism of Israeli policies in East Jerusalem over the past several weeks, including reported remarks to Jordanian MPs in which he appeared to equate Israel with the Islamic State jihadist organization.

He has also reportedly been working to ensure that the Israeli Knesset does not pass a law that would allow Jews to pray at the Temple Mount.

Haviv Rettig Gur, Elhanan Miller and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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