Palestinian backers and Israel at odds over holy site visit
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Palestinians and many Muslim and non-Muslim supporters disagreed sharply with Israel at an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Thursday over an ultranationalist Israeli cabinet minister’s visit to a hotspot of the holy site in Jerusalem and its implications.
The Palestinians warned it could lead to another deadly uprising, while Israel dismissed it as a “trivial matter” and a “non-event.”
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said Israel’s new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler leader who takes inspiration from a racist rabbi, went not to visit the site “but to see his extremist perspective.” to track the end of the “historic status quo” under which Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there since Israel seized the area in the 1967 war.
Known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary, the site is the holiest in Judaism, home to the ancient Biblical temples. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The site has been the scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.
Mansour called Ben-Gvir “an extremist minister from an extremist state” convicted of incitement and known for his “racist views,” and said the Israeli minister is committed to encouraging Jews to pray in al-Haram al-Sharif allowed to. He called on the Security Council and all countries to prevent this and “uphold international law and the historical status quo,” warning that “if they don’t, our Palestinian people will.”
Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who also visited the Temple Mount as Public Security Minister in 2017, criticized the Security Council for holding the emergency session, saying Ben-Gvir’s 13-minute visit was non-violent and consistent with the status quo and his right as a Jew.
Erdan told reporters that calling the meeting was “an insult to our intelligence” and “pathetic” and that the council should instead consider the war in Ukraine or Iran’s killing of protesters.
“Israel has not harmed the status quo and has no plans to do so,” Erdan said. “The only side changing the status quo is the Palestinian Authority. Why? Because by turning the place into a battlefield, the Palestinian Authority is making it clear that not only is Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount intolerable, but so is any Jewish presence.”
“This is pure anti-Semitism,” he added.
Briefing the council at the start of the meeting, Khaled Khiare, the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said Ben-Gvir’s visit was not accompanied or followed by violence. But, he said, “it is seen as particularly inflammatory” given the Minister’s “previous advocacy of changes to the status quo”.
The visit prompted widespread condemnation in the region and internationally “as a provocation that risked triggering further bloodshed,” he said.
Khiare said UN efforts to de-escalate the situation continue and that “leaders on all sides have a responsibility to douse the flames and create the conditions for calm.”
In September 2000, Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, visited the Temple Mount, which helped spark clashes that led to a full-blown Palestinian insurgency known as the Second Intifada. The Security Council deplored Sharon’s visit, which it described as a “provocation”.
Most recently, in April 2021, clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in and around the compound have also fueled an 11-day war with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Visiting the Temple Mount on Tuesday, Ben-Gvir described it as “the most important place for the Jewish people” and condemned what he called “racial discrimination” against Jewish visits to the site.
With the Islamic shrine Dome of the Rock in the background, he said visits would continue. Regarding threats from the Hamas militant group in Gaza, Ben-Gvir said in a video clip recorded during the visit: “The Israeli government will not surrender to a murderous organization, a heinous terrorist organization.”
At the emergency meeting, convened jointly by the Palestinians, the United Arab Emirates, China, France and Malta, all 15 council members expressed their concerns about Ben-Gvir’s visit and the possible consequences, and strongly supported the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.
US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood underscored President Joe Biden’s firm support for “the historic status quo,” particularly the “Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
Wood said the United States, Israel’s closest ally, took note of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s platform to preserve the status quo, adding, “We expect the government of Israel to honor that commitment.”
Wood also said that the possibility of a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be preserved, “and we must ensure that all Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal levels of liberty, justice, security and prosperity.”
The UAE’s Deputy Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab, the Arab representative on the Council, and Jordanian Ambassador Mahmoud Hmoud, whose ruler is the custodian of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites, both called Ben-Gvir’s act “the storming of Al-Aqsa.” Mosque” under the protection of Israel’s forces. They said it was a “provocative” move that violated the historical and legal status of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Abushahab said the minister’s action further destabilizes the fragile situation in the Palestinian territories, moves the region further away from a path to peace and threatens to escalate current tensions, “and helps fuel extremism and hatred in the region and to stoke”.
Hmoud warned that serious consequences and repercussions could result from any unilateral Israeli action “aimed at imposing new realities on the ground,” such as annexing more land, expanding settlements, violating Jerusalem’s holy sites, or destroying it of houses.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, expressed “serious concern” about Ben-Gvir’s visit and said he hoped the new Israeli cabinet “will not take the path of escalation” and “create irreversible realities on the ground”.
“The explosive developments in Jerusalem show once again the urgency of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.
He reiterated Russia’s call for a ministerial meeting of the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators – the UN, the US, Russia and the European Union – and key regional actors to resume direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.
Nebenzia said the US has “repeatedly refused to cooperate in resuming the peace process” under the Quartet, which he described as the only internationally recognized mechanism sanctioned by the Security Council.