(JNS.org) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an effort to calm escalating tensions over the Temple Mount—evident by a string of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis in recent days—by banning Knesset members and government ministers from visiting the holy site in Jerusalem. While originally applying the decision only to Jewish Knesset members, Netanyahu has subsequently added Arab politicians in the ban.
Israel gained eastern Jerusalem along with its holy sites from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War. But the Temple Mount is administered by the Islamic Waqf, a Muslim trust overseen by Jordan that limits non-Muslim visitation and bans Jewish prayer. A recent increase in Jewish visitors has been led by Jewish activist groups such as the Temple Institute. The groups have been calling for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount.
Based on recommendation from Israel's National Security Council, Netanyahu's original decision on Wednesday applied only to Jewish Knesset members in an effort to reduce provocation in the volatile area of Jerusalem's Old City. But the decision drew criticism from Israeli government ministers.
"I believe this is a mistake—why does this not include MKs on the Joint [Arab] List"? No one incites more than Joint List MKs," Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin told Army Radio on Thursday.
The Arab MKs, said Elkin, "propagate lies saying Israel is changing the status quo [on the Temple Mount], they are the ones who are stirring up the people, they are the ones who are clashing with police on Temple Mount. We have all seen the pictures of [MK Jamal] Zahalka, we have all heard [MK] Haneen Zoabi, so I think If Israel wants to have quiet here, the first that should be banned from visiting the Temple Mount are the Joint List's MKs."
Following the criticism, Netanyahu made it clear on Thursday that the Temple Mount ban applies to both Jewish and Arab Knesset members, a revision that was swiftly condemned by Arab lawmakers.
"Neither Netanyahu nor the [political] right can stop us from entering our Al-Aqsa mosque," said Joint Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi, according to Israel's Channel 2.