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Jordan asks Israel for clarifications over Temple Mount bill

by Jack Khoury, Barak Ravid, Nir Hasson and Jonathan Lis         21 October 2014        Haaretz

Bill seeks to change status quo ath the Jerusalem holy site, asks to allow Jews to pray there; Arab media reports bill will come to a vote next month.

Soldiers at the Temple Mount last week.

Soldiers at the Temple Mount last week. Photo by AFP

The Jordanian government asked Israel this week to provide clarifications over a bill which seeks to change the status quo in the Temple Mount by letting Jews pray at the site.

The bill was filed by MK Miri Regev (Likud) and MK Hilik Bar (Labor) about six months ago. MK Bar retracted his signature several days later, after heavy pressure was exerted on him by his party. The bill hasn't been put to a Knesset vote yet, and it is unclear if it will in the Knesset's winter session, to start next week.

A senior Israeli official noted that Jordan's ambassador to Israel Walid Obeidat approached the Foreign Ministry regarding the bill after Palestinian and Arab media reported that it would be put to a Knesset vote next month. The Jordanian ambassador said his country was very concerned by the reports, and asked the Israeli government for clarifications on the matter.

The senior Israeli official added that Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit and national security advisor at the Prime Minister's Office Yossi Cohen have been notified, and will examine the issue and relay an answer to the Jordanians.

Jordan's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that the Jordan's King Abdullah was taking action on the Arab and international arenas to block the bill.

"Israel is trying to void the Jordanian custody over the Al Aqsa Mosque by passing bills and plans for taking over the mosque," Khaled Shawabkeh told Palestinian news agency Ma'an. "But because of the relationship between the two countries, including the peace treaty, Jordan has more means at its disposal to pressure Israel and the international community to stop the violations."

According to him, Jordan has proven in the past the Israel accedes to pressure, for instance when it dismantled the temporary bridge erected at the Mughrabi Gate at the Western Wall plaza.

He added that violating the status quo in the Temple Mount is a red line for the Jordanians, and that the current Israeli policy in Jerusalem is unacceptable. He noted that King Abdullah instructed his government to take all legal and diplomatic measures possible to put an immediate end to "aggression in the Al Aqsa Mosque," and that the Jordanian foreign minister relayed urgent messages to UN Security Council members and to his counterparts worldwide on the matter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in several interviews in recent weeks that he supports the status quo in the Temple Mount in spite of criticism leveled by elements on the political right. In an interview for Channel 2, Netanyahu said he believes changing the status quo "may start a religious war."

Recently, rightist pressure over Israeli policies in the Temple Mount has increased alongside changed attitude in the national-religious public toward the site, exemplified by the record number of Jewish visitors to Temple Mount last Sukkot.

The ongoing attitude change is a process which has started some years ago, but last year reached several peaks, due in part to the activity of dozens of groups dedicated to the matter and to several Knesset members and politicians.

For instance, the left wing association Ir Amim found that last year the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee held more meetings over the site than in the last decade of the committee's activity. Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud) has severely criticized the police for its so-called weak handling of Muslim violence at the Temple Mount.

MK Regev is also part of a group of politicians who call for the status quo to change to allow for Jews to pray at the Temple Mount, and is behind the bill written for that purpose.

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben Dahan told Haaretz last week that he submitted a proposal to Netanyahu that would enable Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, but the prime minister did not approve them. Under the proposal, there would be specific times when Jews are allowed to pray at a certain compound on the mount, similar to the model introduced at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

However, sources familiar with the issue say there is no chance Netanyahu would agree to change the status quo at the site, due to heavy international pressure and the security services’ fear of a violent outburst.

Despite the government taking care, every once in a while rumors break out in the Muslim public that Israel is planning a big move in the Temple Mount. The Palestinian public discourse doesn't differentiate between Jewish Temple Mount activists and the government. Thus, calls to "protect Al Aqsa" are answered by dozens of youngsters whenever tensions rise, especially around Muslim and Jewish holidays, leading to clashes with police.