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Israeli national security minister vows to continue visiting Temple Mount, despite international protests

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, Jan. 3, 2023 (Photo: Minhelet Har Habayit)

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir vowed to continue visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, despite international protestations, including from Israel’s eastern neighbor, Jordan. 

“I manage my own policy concerning the Temple Mount, not that of the Jordanian government,” Ben Gvir told Israeli public broadcaster Kan. 

Even though the State of Israel liberated Jerusalem’s Old City after being attacked by Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan allowed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to serve as custodian of the Muslim structures atop the Mount, mainly the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. 

Dayan sought “to neutralize, as far as possible, the religious aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He believed that leaving the management of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Muslim authorities would prevent an uprising in the territories of Judea and Samaria and in the other Muslim countries and would facilitate adaptation to Israeli control,” according to the Knesset Research and Information Center. 

Nevertheless, Israel retained ownership of the Temple Mount, whose origins are inextricable from Israel’s own history in Jerusalem. The site is considered to be the location where King Solomon built the First Temple for God’s Spirit to dwell, thus making it the holiest site in the Jewish religion.

In 1967, the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Holy Sites ordered Maj.-Gen. Shlomo Goren, then-chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, to “cease all actions connected to the organization of [Jewish] prayer, measurements and the like on the Temple Mount.”

According to this “status quo,” only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during specific hours, as long as they do not pray there. 

Critics argue that this is a discriminatory policy against religiously observant Jews and Christians. The Temple Mount is considered the most sacred site in Judaism but is also important for Christians. 

Ben Gvir stressed that Israel is an independent country not bound by the wishes of other countries. 

“With all due respect to Jordan, Israel is an independent country. I went up to the Temple Mount, I will continue to go up to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is the most important place to the Jewish people, and the State of Israel is a sovereign state, an independent state, not under the auspices of any other country,” Ben Gvir stated

In early January, Ben Gvir’s visit on the Temple Mount was met with vocal international protests prompted by Palestinian representatives at the United Nations. While opposition from the Muslim world was expected, Washington – Israel’s closest ally – also described the national security minister’s Temple Mount visit as “unacceptable.” 

“The United States stands firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. We oppose any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo. They are unacceptable,” said U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

Ben Gvir’s latest Temple Mount statement comes one day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during a surprise visit to Amman, the Jordanian capital. 

The reason for Netanyahu’s visit was likely to improve strained personal relations between the prime minister and Abdullah. Netanyahu reportedly promised the Jordanian king that the status quo on the Temple Mount would be preserved. 

Israel's Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying that “the two leaders discussed regional issues, especially strategic, security and economic cooperation between Israel and Jordan, which contributes to regional stability.”

In contrast, the Jordanian statement following the meeting was more direct, stressing “the importance of respecting the historical and legal status quo” at the Temple Mount. In addition, Jordan reportedly articulated its continued support for a two-state solution with “East Jerusalem” as the future capital of an Arab state, next to the Jewish state. 

The Palestinian Authority has systematically rejected any variation of a two-state solution, refusing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. 

Netanyahu’s decision to improve diplomatic ties with Jordan is likely part of regional plans to expand the historic Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords. 

In March 2021, Netanyahu was forced to cancel a scheduled trip to the United Arab Emirates when the premier’s plane was prevented from passing through Jordanian airspace to Abu Dhabi. The diplomatic crisis was also caused by tensions on the Temple Mount. 

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, a close Netanyahu aide, recently took a secret trip to the UAE, reportedly the first visit by a high-ranking member of the Netanyahu government to the Arab Gulf State state since 2020, when it normalized relations with the Jewish state. 

Dermer’s visit to Abu Dhabi is widely seen as preparing the way for a visit by Netanyahu.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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