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PM rebukes deputy FM for dreaming of Israeli flag on Temple Mount

Netanyahu clarifies yet again that status quo at religious site remains; Hotovely says she was expressing private opinion

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, October 25, 2015. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, October 25, 2015. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned members of his government on Monday night to “act accordingly,” hours after his deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, also from his Likud party, said her dream was for the Israeli flag to fly over the Temple Mount.

In a statement released to the press, the Prime Minister’s Office said the Israeli government’s position vis-a-vis the contested Jerusalem site is well known and “nothing has changed.”

The prime minister “made ​​it clear that he expects all members of the government to act accordingly,” Netanyahu’s office said in the statement, in a clear rebuke of the deputy foreign minister.

The prime minister has repeatedly insisted, most recently on Saturday night after US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II in Jordan, that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Hotovely said Monday that the site was “the center of Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the holiest place for the Jewish people.”

“It’s my dream to see the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount,” she said in an interview with the Knesset channel.

From a vantage point near the Temple Mount, Tzipi Hotovely waves the Israeli flag, with the Dome of the Rock in the background, May 1, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
From a vantage point near the Temple Mount, Tzipi Hotovely waves the Israeli flag, with the Dome of the Rock in the background, May 1, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hours later, she issued a statement clarifying that her “private opinions were not government policy” and that she was “committed to the policy by which the prime minister said that there would be no change to the status quo.”

Hotovely, who favors the annexation of the West Bank and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, has made public visits to the Temple Mount in recent years along with a handful of other right-wing Israeli lawmakers. She recently said that any international observers placed on the Temple Mount would be a violation of Israel’s sovereignty.

“If I were to tell the prime minister what’s correct, in my eyes it’s definitely not proper to see the flags of the Islamic State or Hamas, in my eyes that’s a disgrace,” she said. “We need to fly the [Israeli] flag. This is the capital of Israel and this is the holiest place for the Jewish people.”

Israel captured the Temple Mount from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. Just hours after Israeli paratroopers took control of the Temple Mount, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan ordered the Israeli flag — which the soldiers had quickly raised — to be lowered. Since then, there hasn’t been one on the flashpoint religious site.

Jews consider the compound, site of two Jewish temples in antiquity, to be their holiest place. Muslims consider the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which stands atop the Temple Mount, to be the third-holiest site in Islam.

Hotovely’s remarks were met with criticism from opposition lawmaker Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union, who called on Netanyahu to dismiss her immediately.

“The messianic deputy minister continues to inflame the entire Middle East,” Hasson said. “Every few months she repeats her calls to fly the Israeli flag on the Temple Mount, as if the situation weren’t volatile enough.”

The Temple Mount has been the focus of violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli security forces in recent months, and an ongoing escalation of violence, involving dozens of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis, has been triggered, in part, by Palestinian claims that Israel intends to change the status quo on the religious site. Israel has repeatedly denied the claims.

Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, but non-Muslim prayer is not allowed. The site is administered by the Jordanian Waqf.

Hasson called for Hotovely’s dismissal from the government “for the sake of the security of Israel.”

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