PM: Temple Mount is our holiest site, but we won’t allow Jewish prayer there

After Netanyahu promises to maintain the status quo, Abbas praises his call for calm

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, November 2, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, November 2, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday promised not to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, under which Jews are forbidden from praying there, even though the mount has been “the holiest site” for Jews “ever since the time of our patriarch Abraham.”

Netanyahu — who also called for “responsibility and restraint” in responding to unrest in Jerusalem, and asked for his cabinet’s help in maintaining order — was speaking hours after Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) told a rally in Jerusalem that the status quo on the mount would change, and amid ongoing calls from right-wing MKS and activists to allow Jews to pray there.

One such key activist, Yehudah Glick, was shot four times and badly hurt in an assassination attempt by an alleged Palestinian gunman last Wednesday.

“What is necessary now is to calm the situation and to act with responsibility and restraint,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “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 that restoring quiet to Jerusalem could take a “lengthy struggle” and emphasized Israel’s determination to combat violence in the capital.

“I have ordered massive reinforcements to be brought in and additional means to be used in order to ensure law and order in Israel’s capital,” said Netanyahu. “It could be that we are in a lengthy struggle; however, we are determined to succeed. We will certainly oppose all systematic and continuing attempts by Islamic extremist elements to stir up unrest. They would like to set a religious fire in Jerusalem and thereby ignite the entire Middle East. The place they are most determined on is the Temple Mount.”

Netanyahu promised to retain the status quo on the Temple Mount, allowing non-Muslims to ascend to the site but reserving prayer for Muslims only. “We are committed to the status quo for Jews, Muslims and Christians,” Netanyahu said, then emphasized the importance of the site for Jews. “Since the time of our patriarch Abraham, the Temple Mount has been the holiest site for our people. The Temple Mount is the most sensitive kilometer on earth. Alongside a strong insistence on our rights, we are determined to maintain the status quo…. These messages have been passed along as clearly as possible to Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], as well as to all elements in the area and among us.”

In response, Abbas issued rare if limited praise for Netanyahu.

In a statement issued by Abbas’s office, the PA president said Netanyahu was right to call for preserving the status quo, and termed his comments a “step in the right direction.” Abbas warned of the consequences of the “violation and provocations by the extremists that would lead to serious results in the entire region and ignite the instability in Palestine and the region.”

Netanyahu’s call came after right-wing activists and several MKs called for a mass march on Thursday to the Temple Mount as a response to the shooting of Rabbi Glick, a Temple Mount activist, the night before. The series of events prompted Israeli authorities to institute the closure Thursday of the Temple Mount to Muslims and Jews — a move bitterly criticized by Abbas as a “declaration of war.” The closure order was lifted Friday.

Abbas’s statement Sunday said that the continuing “right-wing incitement” may lead to “dangerous consequences that will affect the entire region.”

Defying Netanyahu’s call, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin visited the Temple Mount on Sunday.

Palestinian youths throw stones during clashes with border police in East Jerusalem, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Palestinian youths throw stones during clashes with Border Police in East Jerusalem, Thursday, October 30, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Mahmoud Illean)

Meanwhile, the condition of Glick improved over the weekend. His condition remained serious, however, and he was expected to undergo further surgery on Monday.

Glick was shot and seriously injured Wednesday by an assailant on a motorcycle upon leaving a conference at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center that dealt with promoting greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount.

The shooter escaped, but was identified by police as Mu’taz Hijazi, an employee at the center’s cafeteria. Security forces killed Hijazi on Thursday morning in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood, saying he opened fire when they came to arrest him. Palestinians claim he was shot in cold blood.

Rabbi Yehudah Glick (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Rabbi Yehudah Glick (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Police said Friday they arrested a man who may have assisted the alleged shooter. Like Hijazi, the man worked in the cafeteria at the Begin Center.

The shooting attack came on the heels of a series of violent incidents that have increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Last month, a Palestinian man drove a car into a crowded train platform located along the seam separating East and West Jerusalem, killing two. In the days following, Palestinians clashed continuously with Israeli police in Arab neighborhoods of the capital. Israel responded to the rise in violence by increasing its police presence, deploying an additional 1,000 officers to the city.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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