US envoy: I give Israel ‘a lot of credit’ for its handling of Jerusalem tensions

Tom Nides notes recent friction in capital, which included frequent clashes on Temple Mount, didn’t spiral into war with Gaza-ruling Hamas as it did last year

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Richard Nides during his swearing-in ceremony as new ambassador to Israel, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Richard Nides during his swearing-in ceremony as new ambassador to Israel, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The US ambassador to Israel said Tuesday that he gives Israel’s government “a lot of credit” for its handling of tensions in Jerusalem over the past month, which saw a rare confluence of Passover, Ramadan and Easter.

“I think things went pretty well,” Ambassador Thomas Nides said during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

Nides said he spent a lot of time in the lead-up to April speaking with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders about defusing tensions in the capital.

“We were pretty nervous,” he said, adding that the talks addressed efforts “to try to keep things on the Temple Mount calm.”

The envoy also credited Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, who came to the region last week and met with all the sides in an effort to ensure calm.

Nides acknowledged that “it wasn’t perfect” but said he felt “really good about” how Israel handled the last month.

Palestinians, including one waving a Hamas flag, clash with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on April 22, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The start of Ramadan saw near-nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Damascus Gate, followed by over a week of skirmishes at the Temple Mount that began on April 15, when Friday prayers for Ramadan, the start of Passover and Good Friday all coincided.

Nides noted that the violence did not snowball into an all-out war with the Gaza-ruling Hamas as it did last year, though terrorists in the coastal enclave did fire six rockets toward Israel in April after months of quiet.

Israel also experienced a bloody terror wave that began in late March and took the lives of 16 people. During that time, 26 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops — the majority, but not all, in clashes.

Despite the tensions, Israel moved forward with plans to ease restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, allowing women, children and some men enter from the West Bank without permits in order to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan. Police in Jerusalem were also notably more restrained, allowing gatherings at the Old City’s Damascus Gate, which were prohibited during much of Ramadan last year.

Later during Tuesday’s event, Nides was asked about Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent claims that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood” and that “some of the worst antisemites are Jews.”

“It sounds like a guy who’s losing the war,” Nides said. “It was so outrageously stupid… What Russia has done has set Russia back in my humble view, not only with Israel, but [with] the world for 30 years,” he said.

Israel has denounced the comments and called for Russia to apologize, but on Tuesday Moscow doubled down, accusing Jerusalem of backing “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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