Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday discussed with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir the latter’s stated intention to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which has drawn condemnation from the opposition and threats from the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.
The content of the conversation was not made public, but Hebrew media reports indicated that the two agreed that Ben Gvir would hold off on visiting the flashpoint site for the time being.
A statement issued by Ben Gvir’s office said he would visit the Temple Mount as a minister “in the coming weeks,” and not this week as reportedly planned.
According to the Ynet news site, Ben Gvir told Netanyahu, “We must not cave to Hamas,” after the terror group warned against the visit.
Likud later issued a statement insisting that after discussions with security officials, Netanyahu avoided recommending to Ben Gvir that he refrain from visiting the Temple Mount.
Ben Gvir, who has been to the Temple Mount on numerous occasions in the past, announced Sunday that he intends to visit the site soon, as a minister.
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 spokesperson Abd Al Latif Al, and passed on to the Israeli government via Egyptian and UN mediators, the terror group warned that Ben Gvir’s planned visit “indicates that the fascist settler government has begun its plan to attack our people and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and declare war on it.”
The Haaretz daily reported Monday that diplomats from several unnamed Arab states have reached out to Jerusalem to express their concern over Ben Gvir’s plan to visit the Temple Mount, saying such steps could lead to a deterioration of the security situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the wider region.
They noted that Passover and Ramadan will again fall at the same time next spring and that “extreme statements and actions by senior officials of the new government, along with the sense of desperation on the Palestinian side, may take their toll,” a source familiar with the matter told the newspaper.
Ben Gvir’s announcement was criticized by the opposition, with Opposition Leader Yair Lapid warning Monday that such a visit would “cost lives.”
“Itamar Ben Gvir must not go up to Temple Mount,” Lapid said at the outset of his Yesh Atid party’s weekly Knesset faction meeting. “It is a deliberate provocation that will put lives in danger and cost lives,” he added, urging Netanyahu to prevent the visit.
Several opposition members to the right of Lapid appeared to attempt to goad Ben Gvir into visiting, while mocking him and Netanyahu.
“Is it possible that the prime minister of the ‘full-on right-wing government’ is preventing one of his ministers from visiting the Temple Mount due to threats from Hamas, after he freely visited the site every month during the tenure of a government he claimed was ‘controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood?’” National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar quipped on Twitter.
The sentiment was echoed by Sa’ar’s fellow faction member Ze’ev Elkin, who claimed the threats by Hamas and a “frantic” phone call from Netanyahu led Ben Gvir to fold.
Another right-winger who used to be in their party, Yoaz Hendel, tweeted that the reported delay demonstrated that “Ben Gvir is showing who is the real boss [on the Temple Mount]. Not the Israeli government.”
Ben Gvir is one of the three far-right party heads in Netanyahu’s nascent coalition. The newly minted national security minister, who has long been accused of being a provocateur, made several trips to the Temple Mount as a Knesset member and was also a leader of a contentious nationalist march through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. On several occasions, he set up an ad hoc office in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which has also been at the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
His last visit to the Temple Mount was about three months ago, ahead of 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 ahead of the elections, he agreed to maintain the status quo at holy sites, including the Temple Mount, in coalition agreements reached with Netanyahu before the swearing-in of the government.