Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first official visit to the United Arab Emirates has been postponed due to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Tuesday morning visit to the Temple Mount.
Tazpit Press Service sources in Abu Dhabi with ties to the UAE government said, “We cannot host Netanyahu right now, especially when there is a chance of escalation.”
On Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office had confirmed that Netanyahu’s first foreign trip as Prime Minister would be to the Emirates, though no specific date was announced. It was widely assumed the visit would be next week.
Arab sources reported that “UAE diplomats acted vigorously the past two days to persuade Netanyahu not to allow Ben-Gvir to visit the Temple Mount.” They characterized Abu Dhabi-Jerusalem discussions as having “significant tension.”
The UAE is concerned that Palestinian violence will escalate in the next few days, especially during the Friday prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount. Netanyahu’s presence in Abu Dhabi during an escalation would be politically and diplomatically awkward for the Emiratis.
“We congratulated Netanyahu when he won the elections, but we cannot accept a situation in which the Abraham Accords will be used as a cover for acts against the Palestinians, like changing the status-quo in East Jerusalem or annexing the West Bank,” sources in Abu-Dhabi told TPS.
Many Arab countries, including Jordan, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount. But an escalation of Palestinian violence is not certain.
“Ben-Gvir’s visit to the mountain very early in the morning, under heavy security, was an act of cowardice and surrender. Therefore, it does not require a military response”, a Palestinian source told TPS. “Nevertheless, we are concerned by this move and by what seems as the beginning of extreme policy by the new Israeli government.”
In Gaza, Hamas also sent uncertain signals.
A Palestinian source told TPS, “The leadership of Hamas was caught off guard by Ben-Gvir’s move, which puts it in a very difficult position after it promised to respond to any provocation in Al-Aqsa.”
After the numerous condemnations from the Arab world and the postponement of the visit in the UAE, Netanyahu’s office published a press release stating: “The Prime Minister is obligated to keep without change the status-quo in the Temple Mount, yet we shall not surrender to threats by Hamas.
“In accordance with the status-quo, Israeli ministers have visited the mountain more then once in the past few years, Including former Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan. Therefore, the claim of a change in the status-quo is baseless.”
Although Netanyahu was Prime Minister when Israel signed the Abraham accords with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020, he never publicly visited those countries because of Israel’s repeated election campaigns and coronavirus travel restrictions.
The Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples were built, is the holiest site in Judaism. The delicate status quo governing it goes back to 1967, when Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six-Day War.
Fearing a religious war, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan agreed to let the Islamic Waqf, a Muslim trusteeship, continue managing the holy site’s day-to-day affairs, while Israel would maintain overall sovereignty and be responsible for security. According to the status quo, Jews and non-Muslims would be allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but not pray there.
In September, the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount crossed the 50,000 threshold for the first time in modern history, according to Beyadenu, an organization working to advance Jewish ties to the holy site.
While Judaism is the holiest place in the world for Jews, rabbis are increasingly divided over Jews ascending to the Temple Mount. For centuries, the widespread rabbinic consensus was that the laws of ritual purity still apply to the site. But in recent years, a growing number of rabbis have argued that ritual purity laws don’t apply to all sections of the Temple Mount and encourage visits to permitted areas to maintain Jewish connections to the Mount.