Israel defense chief, Jordan’s king discuss Ramadan calm

Jordan's King Abdullah II (Hannibal Hanschke - AP)

AP  /  March 29, 2022

JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman on Tuesday in what both sides said was an effort to maintain calm in Jerusalem ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s meeting with Abdullah was his second this year, and is part of a broader effort by the new Israeli government to cultivate closer relations with its neighbor after years of neglect.

It came a day after Jordan’s king visited the West Bank and met with Palestinian leaders while Israeli and Arab diplomats held a summit with the visiting American secretary of state in southern Israel.

The king’s high-profile visit — his first in nearly five years — and Jordan’s absence from the ministers’ meeting, were reminders that the Palestinian issue has not disappeared from the regional agenda.

Tensions between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem during last year’s Ramadan helped contribute to the eruption of the 11-day war between the militant group Hamas and Israel in May.

Gantz’s office said the two discussed “measures that Israel is planning to take in order to enable freedom of prayer in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names, as well as “additional civilian measures that will benefit Palestinians.”

The Royal Palace said that the king “stressed that maintaining the comprehensive calm requires respecting the right of Muslims to perform their religious rites in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The mosque is built on a hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount. The disputed compound is a frequent flashpoint of violence.

During Gantz’s visit to Jordan, Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s office said he would be paying a state visit to Amman on Wednesday to meet with Abdullah and discuss “deepening Israeli-Jordanian relations.”

Although Herzog paid a clandestine visit last year after taking office, his trip to Amman would be the first official state visit by an Israeli president since the two countries signed a landmark peace treaty in 1994. The Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial position.

Israel and Jordan maintain close security ties and have diplomatic relations, but relations soured in recent years over tensions around Jerusalem’s flashpoint holy site, Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process with the Palestinians.

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Jordan king: Israel must respect Muslim rights at Al-Aqsa

Al-Jazeera  /  March 29, 2022

King Abdullah and Israeli defence minister Gantz meet before Ramadan, a year after tensions led to war in Gaza.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has called on Israel to respect Muslim rights at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in a meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz in Amman.

The meeting on Tuesday appeared to be a joint effort to lower Israeli-Palestinian tensions as the holy month of Ramadan approaches.

The Royal Palace said that the king “stressed that maintaining the comprehensive calm requires respecting the right of Muslims to perform their religious rites in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque”.

Gantz discussed “the measures that Israel is planning to take in order to enable freedom of prayer in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria”, an Israeli statement said, using Biblical names referring to the West Bank. Their talks focused on “regional and security challenges”, it added.

The statement did not elaborate on any steps Israel might take to facilitate worship in Jerusalem, the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, a friction point where confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces could trigger a wider conflict.

The meeting followed a two-day summit in Israel attended by the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt, as well as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

The Palestinians were not invited to the summit, despite the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories being a central feature of Arab-Israeli relations for the last 50 years.

While the Arab ministers convened in Israel, King Abdullah paid a rare visit on Monday to the occupied West Bank, where he held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The king’s high-profile visit, his first in nearly five years, and Jordan’s absence from the ministers’ meeting, were reminders that the Palestinian issue has not disappeared from the regional agenda.

The monarch’s visit was widely seen as an attempt to avert any flare-ups in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before Ramadan, and the Easter and Passover holidays next month – a volatile period in the past.

Raids by Israeli security forces on the Al-Aqsa compound, as well as attacks on worshippers, and the attempted eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood during last year’s Ramadan helped contribute to the eruption of Israel’s 11-day offensive on the Gaza Strip in May.

Citing security concerns, Israel has imposed age limits on Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa during periods of tension and restricted Palestinian travel to Jerusalem from the West Bank, territory that it captured, along with the eastern part of the holy city, in a 1967 war.

Israel and Jordan maintain close security ties and have diplomatic relations, but relations have soured in recent years because of tensions over Jerusalem’s holy sites, Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process with the Palestinians.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is expected to hold talks with King Abdullah in Jordan on Wednesday, official sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

Although Herzog paid a clandestine visit last year after taking office, his trip to Amman would be the first official state visit by an Israeli president since the two countries signed a landmark peace treaty in 1994. The Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial position.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES