Leaders on all sides of the Palestinian question must help lower the flames of tension and maintain the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites, the Organization’s senior peace official appealed during his address to the Security Council today.
Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, addressed the 15-member body in the aftermath of Israel’s new Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir’s 3 January visit to the holy sites in Jerusalem, along with a heavy security detail. The visit is seen as particularly inflammatory given the Minister’s past advocacy for changes to the status quo, he pointed out.
Also noting that this was the first visit to the site by an Israeli minister since 2017, he added that the visit was sharply condemned by the Palestinian Authority and others as a provocation while Israel’s Prime Minister as well as senior Government officials emphasized commitment to upholding the status quo.
Warning that any incident or tension at the holy sites can spill over and cause violence throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in Israel, and elsewhere in the region, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for all parties to refrain from escalations and uphold the status quo, in line with the special role of Jordan.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of Israel said the Council’s meeting on this topic creates a sense of urgency over the non-event posed by the peaceful 13-minute visit of a Jewish minister to the holiest Jewish site. For years, the Palestinians have orchestrated a poisonous campaign to obliterate any trace or connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, which is the exact point towards which every Jew is commanded to pray three times a day, he said.
Further, he added, from 1948 after Jordan occupied East Jerusalem during Israel’s war of independence, the Jordanians decimated Jewish life in Jerusalem and forbid Jews from accessing their holy site. Minister Ben-Gvir's recent visit to the Temple Mount was not an intrusion into Al-Aqsa and was in line with the status quo and whoever claims otherwise is only inflaming the situation, he said. “The status quo maintains that Jews may visit the site and it is the right of every Jew to do so,” he said.
However, the observer for the State of Palestine countered that Israel’s actions have nothing to do with religious freedom, and everything to do with the unlawful attempt to alter the character, status and identity of the city. Minister Ben-Gvir came to the mosque to pursue his extremist agenda and end the historic status quo, he said, highlighting the meaning of the temporal and spatial division of Al-Haram for Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims around the world.
Further, he pointed out, Al-Haram Al-Sharif is in occupied East Jerusalem, an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which Israel has no claim and no right to sovereignty over. Jerusalem is a city of pluralism and diversity, and its historic status quo is not just a legacy of the past, but also a safe passage to a peaceful future, he said. In his role as Chairman of the Arab Group for January, he called on Israel to respect the historic status quo of the Mosque and uphold that of Haram al-Sharif, including the full area of 144,000 square metres, which is for the exclusive worship of Muslims.
Violating the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque is provocative and deplorable, Jordan’s representative said, reaffirming the Hashemite custodianship of the holy sites and highlighting the leadership of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in protecting them. He also stressed the importance of restoring the pre-2000 situation, which guarantees that the Mosque and Haram al-Sharif is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims, with Jerusalem Awqaf and the Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Administration being the sole authorities empowered to manage them. Minister Ben-Gvir’s storming took place without the agreement of the Awqaf Administration, which violates the historic status quo, he said.
Council members urged all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, with the representative of the United States underscoring his Government’s support for the preservation of the historic status quo. Noting that Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s governmental platform calls for its preservation, he encouraged the Government of Israel to uphold that commitment. He also expressed concern over the rising number of deaths in recent months and urged both sides to restore calm and preserve the possibility of a two-State solution.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces as well as the vandalization of the Christian cemetery on Mount Zion. Those responsible for trampling the graves and desecrating the sanctity of this landmark must be held accountable, he said, highlighting Jordan’s custodial role over the holy sites, and the mandate of the Administration of Jerusalem’s Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs to manage all the affairs of Haram al-Sharif, including its entry procedures.
Switzerland’s delegate welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 3 January affirmation of Israel’s commitment to preserving the status. Drawing attention to the record number of Palestinian civilian deaths last year and the deadly attacks in Israel, she said the visit of the new Israeli Minister of National Security to the Esplanade of the Mosques is cause for concern. The parties must address the root causes of the conflict and restore a political horizon for a negotiated two-state solution, she said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of China, Albania, Russian Federation, Gabon, Malta, Brazil, Ghana, Mozambique, Ecuador, United Kingdom, France and Japan.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:50 p.m.