Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Monday with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir over his stated intention to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which has been condemned by the opposition and threatened by Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group.
The content of the conversation was not made public, but according to Hebrew media reports, the two agreed that Ben Gvir would stop visiting the seat of the fire for the time being.
A statement from Ben Gvir’s office said he would be visiting the Temple Mount as a minister “in the coming weeks” rather than this week as reportedly planned.
According to news site Ynet, Ben Gvir told Netanyahu: “We must not give in to Hamas” after the terror group warned against the visit.
The Likud later issued a statement insisting that after discussions with security officials, Netanyahu avoided recommending Ben Gvir not to visit the Temple Mount.
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Ben Gvir, who has been to the Temple Mount several times in the past, announced on Sunday that he intends to visit the site soon as a minister.
Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir was seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022 after visiting the Temple Mount. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
In response, Hamas warned Israel that Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount would “blow up the situation.”
In a statement attributed to Hamas spokesman Abd Al Latif Al and forwarded to the Israeli government through Egyptian and UN mediators, the terror group warned that Ben Gvir’s planned visit “indicates that the fascist settler government is collaborating with its plan to attack our people and Al-Aqsa Mosque and declare war on it.”
Haaretz daily reported Monday that diplomats from several unnamed Arab countries have reached out to Jerusalem to express concerns about Ben Gvir’s plan to visit the Temple Mount, saying such moves could worsen the security situation in Jerusalem, West Bank. and the wider region.
They noted that next spring’s Passover and Ramadan will again coincide, and that “extreme statements and actions by senior officials in the new government, along with feelings of desperation on the Palestinian side, could be taking their toll,” a source who is familiar with with the matter to the newspaper.
Ben Gvir’s announcement drew criticism from the opposition, with opposition leader Yair Lapid warning on Monday that such a visit would “cost lives”.
“Itamar Ben Gvir must not go to the Temple Mount,” Lapid said at the start of his Yesh Atid party’s weekly Knesset faction meeting. “It is a deliberate provocation that endangers and costs lives,” he added, urging Netanyahu to prevent the visit.
Several opposition figures to Lapid’s right appeared to be trying to incite Ben Gvir to visit while taunting him and Netanyahu.
Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to the press as he arrives to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City August 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
“Is it possible that the prime minister of the ‘full right-wing government’ is preventing one of his ministers from visiting the Temple Mount due to threats from Hamas after he has voluntarily visited the site every month during a government’s tenure? he claimed he was ‘controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood’?” joked National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar on Twitter.
Opinion was shared by Sa’ar’s faction colleague Ze’ev Elkin, who claimed the threats from Hamas and a “frantic” phone call from Netanyahu prompted Ben Gvir to cave in.
Another far right formerly in her party, Yoaz Hendel, tweeted that the reported delay shows that “Ben Gvir is showing who the real boss is [on the Temple Mount]. Not the Israeli government.”
Ben Gvir is one of the three far-right party leaders in Netanyahu’s emerging coalition. Long accused of being a provocateur, the new national security minister made several trips to the Temple Mount as a member of the Knesset and also led a controversial nationalist march through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. On several occasions he set up an ad hoc office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which has also been at the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
His last visit to the Temple Mount was about three months ago, before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah. “I went up to the Temple Mount this morning to pray and exercise sovereignty in the holiest place for the people of Israel,” he tweeted at the time.
Despite Ben Gvir’s rhetoric on the issue before the election, in coalition agreements reached with Netanyahu before the government was sworn in, he agreed to maintain the status quo at holy sites, including the Temple Mount.
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