Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said he was “overjoyed” when he heard that the U.N. Security Council was holding an emergency meeting Thursday over the “quiet, orderly, uneventful” visit of an Israeli government minister to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
“I figured that if this important body is meeting to discuss such a trivial matter, then we clearly achieved world peace overnight,” Gilad Erdan said, mocking the council’s decision to submit to the Palestinians’ demand for a discussion on the matter.
Unsurprisingly, much of the rest of the council didn’t share Erdan’s perspective on Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to Judaism’s holy site, which serves as a flashpoint for conflict with the Palestinians and their adjacent Al-Aqsa mosque.
Robert Wood, a diplomat representing the U.S., told the Security Council, “We are concerned by any unilateral acts that exacerbate tensions or undermine the viability of a two-state solution.” He added that the U.S. “firmly supports the preservation of the historical status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem, especially on the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount,” including both the Jewish and Muslim names for the site.
“In this spirit, we oppose any and all unilateral actions that depart from the historical status quo that are unacceptable,” Wood said, noting that Washington expects Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to follow through on Netanyahu’s commitment to the status quo at the holy site, which the Palestinians and others accused Israel of flouting.
Erdan noted that Ben-Gvir entered through the only non-Muslim entrance to the Temple Mount at one of the limited designated times of the week for Jewish admittance, entered alone save for the security detail needed to protect him and made no attempt to pray.
He went into a lengthy history lesson about the Temple Mount and the status quo there, saying, “Israel has not harmed the status quo and has no plans to do so. The only side that is changing the status quo is the Palestinian Authority. Why? Because by turning the site into a battleground … the Palestinian Authority is making it clear that not only is Jewish prayer intolerable on the Temple Mount, but so is any Jewish presence.”
Erdan labeled Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the U.N. Riyad Mansour’s claims that the Temple Mount complex is exclusive to Muslims as a holy site “pure antisemitism.”
The United Arab Emirates, which, along with China, France and Malta, called for the meeting, deemed Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount as “the storming of Al Aqsa mosque” under the protection of Israeli forces.
UAE Deputy Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab and Jordanian Ambassador Mahmoud Hmoud both said Ben-Gvir’s visit was “provocative” and in violation of the historic status of the site.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, expressed “serious concern” at Ben-Gvir’s visit, adding that he hoped the new Israeli government “will not take the path of escalation.”
Russia has been particularly antagonistic toward Israel for months at relevant Security Council sessions, upset at the previous Israeli government’s criticisms of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. New Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said this week that no firm policy toward the Russians has been developed yet by the new government, though Netanyahu and Russian President Vladamir Putin have historically been on friendly terms.
Notably, no Security Council resolution or joint statement among the 15 members emerged from Thursday’s session. Analysts predicted the U.S. would prevent such measures, as it has been loath to pile on to the one-sided criticism that Israel suffers at the U.N.
The Security Council is scheduled to hold its quarterly open debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Jan. 18.
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