WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials are praising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for removing screening equipment from the Temple Mount as the actions of a “responsible” leader, amid criticism from those on the premier’s political Right that he caved to pressure from the Arab world.
A member of the prime minister’s own government, Naftali Bennett of the rightwing Bayit Yehudi party, said on Thursday that Netanyahu’s decision to remove metal detectors and scanners from the holy plateau after a shooting attack on July 14 killed two Israeli police officers amounts to a “surrender” by Israel to Palestinian rioters.
“Israel comes out weakened from this crisis,” Bennett said. The equipment was removed after intensive discussions among the Israelis, Jordanians, Americans and Saudis.
“Instead of sending a message about Israel’s sovereignty on the Temple Mount, it sent a message that Israel’s sovereignty can be questioned,” Bennett added.
But speaking with The Jerusalem Post, a senior White House official said that Netanyahu’s move was in the interest of both Israel and the region as a whole.
“In our continuous contacts with him throughout the crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted with a clear sense of responsibility not just for Israel’s security, but also for regional stability,” the official said.
In addition to blowback from his right flank, Netanyahu faced criticism from a critical ally on Thursday. The king of Jordan, Abdullah II, slammed the prime minister for seeking to “score personal political points” at the expense of regional stability over his handling of a stabbing and shooting incident on Sunday involving an Israeli security guard at its embassy in Amman.
Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, remains in the region for talks with both sides. He and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, have been speaking quietly with regional leaders in order to diffuse the crisis, which has cascaded since that July 14 shooting attack.
“The United States welcomes the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem today. We believe that calm and security will create the best opportunity to return to dialogue and the pursuit of peace,” Greenblatt said in a statement on Thursday. “President Trump, Jared Kushner, and I, in full coordination with Secretary Rex Tillerson, Ambassador David Friedman, Consul General Don Blome and the State Department, as well as General H. R. McMaster and the National Security Council, have been and will remain engaged as we continue to monitor the situation closely.”
A senior administration official said that the president’s team “continues to be engaged in this situation at the highest levels.”
The State Department once again declined on Thursday to take a position on whether the introduction of metal detectors or cameras around the Temple Mount complex, known in the Muslim world as Haram al-Sharif, changes the status quo at the holy site. The department’s spokesman, Heather Nauert, simply said that the US is committed to maintaining that status quo, and would not pressure Israel to make security decisions “for political purposes.”