Palestinians slam Israeli decision to allow MKs on Temple Mount
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Palestinians slam Israeli decision to allow MKs on Temple Mount

PA foreign ministry says move is part of Israeli efforts to thwart peace process; PM Hamdallah calls on UN to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) is greeted by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (R) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 29, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) is greeted by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (R) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 29, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

The Palestinians slammed Israel’s decision to allow lawmakers to enter the Temple Mount for the first time in two years and appealed to the United Nations to protect the holy site from what they referred to as “storming” by Israeli Knesset members who were visiting there.

Speaking at a press conference with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday asked the international body to take “serious and active measures to protect Islamic and Christian holy sites from violations by the occupation and its settlers, especially in the shadow of continual incitement by the Israeli government in storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the most recent of which was the storming by Knesset members today.”

MKs Yehudah Glick (Likud) and Shuli Moalem Refaeli (Jewish Home) visited the compound earlier Tuesday in a government-approved move, marking the first time Jewish lawmakers were allowed to enter the site since October 2015, when the government barred MKs from going there as part of an attempt to reduce tensions amid a wave of terror attacks against Israelis that was linked to the flashpoint site.

Hamdallah accused Israel of “schemes to divide [the Temple Mount] in both space and time.” He called on the UN to enforce the July decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Council (UNESCO) that characterized the Al-Aqsa Mosque as being of “pure Islamic heritage,” and to “force Israel not to change the status quo” at the site.

The status quo that has been in effect for the past five decades has the Temple Mount administered by a Jordanian body. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the holy site but not to pray there.

Palestinians regularly accuse Israel of seeking to alter the status quo, a charge Israel frequently and vehemently denies.

MK Yehuda Glick (C) walks barefoot, escorted by Israeli police and supporters, inside the flash-point Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known as the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 29, 2017. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Hamdallah also called on the UN to protect Jordan’s historic role as the custodian of the site.

On Monday, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it “condemns in the strongest terms the provocative Israeli decision” to end the ban on lawmakers visiting the Temple Mount.

The ministry, in a likely reference to American efforts to initiate a new round of talks between Palestinians and Israelis, called on all “countries talking about restarting the peace to process to put end their silence and urgently move to put an end to Israeli attempts to thwart the peace process.”

The Jordanian government spokesperson Mohammad Momani on Tuesday called the decision to allow lawmakers to visit the Temple Mount “irresponsible,” and said Amman was expecting measures that would “contribute” to the US-led peace process, rather than “something like these contemptible and rejected” steps.

Mohammad Al Momani, Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs (Courtesy)

The visit to the Temple Mount by the two Knesset members came weeks after the holy site became the focus of a major crisis between Israeli authorities and local Muslims over contentious security measures taken at the entrances to the compound.

Metal detectors and cameras were installed following a deadly attack in which three Arab Israelis emerged from the site and shot dead two Israeli police officers using weapons that had been smuggled onto the Temple Mount. The upgraded security measures were all ultimately removed.

Following discussions with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the prime minister decided in early July that the ban on MKs going to the Temple Mount would be lifted for a period of seven days to assess any fallout from the move — though on Tuesday, the trial period seemed to have been reduced to a single day.

The site, Judaism’s most holy as the site of the biblical Temples, remains otherwise off-limits to Israeli lawmakers. The government and police have said they will assess allowing MKs to visit the site on a regular basis in the future.

Under a decades-old agreement enforced by Israel, only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the compound, which is known to Arabs as Haram al-Sharif and which contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Glick and Moalem-Refaeli walked around the site with a small group of people, accompanied by Israeli security officials. The visit took place without incident.

Glick rejected criticism leveled at him that accused him of fomenting violence with his visit.

“I have a very peculiar worldview,” he said dryly, “according to which the person who is responsible for a terror attack is the one who carried it out. And the one who incites to murder is guilty. I am convinced that whoever visits the Temple Mount adds peace to the world, and whoever promotes incitement and hatred is guilty.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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