The Biden administration rebuked Israel on Sunday as a Jewish political leader visited the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, to emphasize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy places, which are open to all.
The State Department issued a two-paragraph statement stating that the administration was “deeply troubled” by the visit of right-wing national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir to the holy site, and by a recent Israeli government decision to let Israelis settlers return to an area in Judea and Samaria (the “west Bank”) near where the settlement of Homesh was before the “disengagement” under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005.
The statement read:
We are deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s order that allows its citizens to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh outpost in the northern West Bank, which according to Israeli law was illegally built on private Palestinian land. This order is inconsistent with both former Prime Minister Sharon’s written commitment to the Bush Administration in 2004 and the current Israeli government’s commitments to the Biden Administration. Advancing Israeli settlements in the West Bank is an obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.
We are also concerned by today’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif in Jerusalem and the accompanying inflammatory rhetoric. This holy space should not be used for political purposes, and we call on all parties to respect its sanctity. More broadly, we reaffirm the longstanding U.S. position in support of the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites and underline Jordan’s special role as custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
As Caroline Glick pointed out in March, the so-called “written commitment” by Sharon was violated by the Obama administration, which denied the agreement even existed. Under the deal, Israel agreed to pull out Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in Judea and Samaria. In return, then-President George W. Bush accepted that Israel would preserve some of the territory of Judea and Samaria.
But the Obama administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, denied the agreement existed, because they wanted to restrict Israeli building in existing Jewish communities and move Israel to its post-1949 border. The Palestinians, for their part, rejected the opportunity of the “disengagement” to more toward peace, and turned Gaza into a terrorist-run entity that is a launchpad for thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.
The new Israeli policy passed the Knesset earlier this year as a recognition that the “disengagement” policy had failed. There is little prospect that Jews who formerly lived in settlements in Gaza will be able to return, but the Israeli government is allowing Jews to visit — though not yet to settle — in the areas of Judea and Samaria that were forcibly abandoned as part of the disengagement, in an effort to correct what is seen as an historic error.
Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, is hardly the first Israeli leader to visit the Temple Mount in a show of sovereignty. Israel has governed the site since capturing it in a defensive war against Jordan. But Israel decided to grant Muslim religious authorities the ability to administer the site. Ben Gvir’s visit came after Palestinian Authority leader told the United Nations last week that there was no Jewish connection to the site.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place in the Jewish faith, and the site of the two ancient Holy Temples. Jews generally do not visit or pray there, for fear on stepping on the ground where the Holy of Holies, the center of the Temple, once stood. Israeli authorities have also restricted Jewish prayer there to avoid tensions, since the site is today the third-holiest place in Islam and houses both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Ben Gvir and others have criticized the restrictions on Jewish prayer, saying that it amounts to discrimination against Jews by their own country. In the recent past, Palestinians have used fraudulent claims that Jews want to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque to incite rioting and war against Israel; terrorists have also stockpiled weapons inside the Islamic holy site, which forces Israeli police and soldiers to enter the compound to remove them.
The Biden administration boycotted the United Nations event at which Abbas spoke, a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the so-called Palestinian “Nakba,” or “Catastrophe,” held to mourn the founding of Israel. The State Department said that the administation “disagree[d] with President Abbas’s comments,” with U.S. antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt calling Abbas’s rhetoric “unacceptable” in the face of antisemitic violence.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
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