Netanyahu raps deputy FM for 'dreaming of Israeli flag on Temple Mount'
Thomas Coex (AFP/File)
Israel's deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely has come under fire for saying her dream was for the Israeli flag to fly over the Temple Mount site in Jerusalem.
The comments led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn members of his government on Monday night to “act accordingly” on the sensitive issue of the flashpoint holy site, which is at the epicenter of the current wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
The compound is considered the third holiest site in Islam and is revered by Jews as their holiest site, known as Temple Mount.
Known to Muslims as Al-Aqsa mosque, the compound is situated in east Jerusalem which was seized from Jordan in the 1967 war. While Jordan has retained custodial rights over the holy sites, administered by the Jordanian Waqf, Israel controls access. Clashes at the site erupted in September as Muslims protested an increase in Jewish visitors during their religious holidays. Palestinian protesters accuse the Jewish state of seeking to change the rules governing the compound which allows Jews to visit, but not pray there.
Speaking on Israel's Knesset channel, Hotovely insisted that Jews should be permitted to pray at the site. "The site is the center of Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the holiest place for the Jewish people,” she said.
Netanyahu spoke to Hotovely and demanded she publish a clarification, which she did later Monday evening. "My private opinions do not represent government policy. I am committed to the prime ministers policy of no change to the status quo," she said, referring to the tense status quo that exists at the site.
The Prime Minister's Office also published statement saying that "Israels policy on Temple Mount is that there is no change to the Temple Mount status quo, as stated in the prime minister's statement Saturday. The prime minister clarified that members of his government must abide by that policy".
Netanyahu 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.
Behind the scenes
Netanyahu on Monday revealed details about the behind the scenes talks that took place in Amman.
During a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the prime minister stressed the deal to install cameras on the Temple Mount.
Kerry announced Saturday that Israel and Jordan had agreed on new measures covering the compound, including 24-hour security cameras.
“The cameras will transmit to us and to the people at the Waqf,” Netanyahu said, Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported. “But I don’t rule out that ultimately it will be transmitted everywhere. We have nothing to hide and transparency there is good for us.”
According to several Knesset members present at the committee meeting, Netanyahu said Israel's cooperation with some of the Sunni Arab countries had been reduced amid the violence surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
“There is an opportunity for cooperation with Arab countries, but [some of the cooperation] is being halted because of the situation at the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying, according to Ha'aretz.
“We are therefore trying to calm the tension on the Temple Mount… The street in Arab countries is responding first of all to the religious question of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and only after that to the conflict with the Palestinians.”
Jews should be allowed to pray on Temple Mount
Israel Radio on Tueday aired remarks made by Culture Minister Miri Regev two years ago in the Knesset, calling on police to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. She made her comments when she chaired a meeting of the Knesset's Internal Affairs committee regarding the access of Jews and Muslims to the flashpoint Jerusalem site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews.
"The only thing we ask," Regev is heard saying in the recording, "is that Jews be allowed to go up to the Mount and pray there." She then turns to Arab media representatives in the room and says: "Come here, I want you to record this message and convey it to the Arab world. If the Arabs keep threatening us with an intifada, let them mount an intifada and we'll see."
The comments bear specific relevance to the latest wave of violence to sweep Israel and the West Bank since Oct. 1, which was sparked by Muslim claims that Israel plans to make changes at the site.
Asked Tuesday about her remarks, Regev conceded that she had presented a proposed law that would allow Jews to pray at the site, but added that she had withdrawn the legislation because she understood its inflammatory impact.
"In principle, I think every citizen of a democratic state should be allowed to pray wherever they want, but I respect the status quo and the Prime Minister's commitment to respect it," she said.
Tal Shalev is the i24news diplomatic correspondent.
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