To ease ten­sion, more cam­eras at mosque

Kerry says vig­i­lance at al-Aqsa will in­crease vis­i­bil­ity, trans­parency

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY CAROL MORELLO AND HUGH NAY­LOR carol.morello@wash­ hugh.nay­lor@wash­ Nay­lor re­ported from Jerusalem.

AM­MAN, JOR­DAN — Is­rael and Jor­dan have agreed to take steps aimed at quelling a wave of vi­o­lence, start­ing with the in­stal­la­tion of se­cu­rity cam­eras on the al-Aqsa Mosque com­pound in Jerusalem, Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry said Satur­day.

Speak­ing af­ter meet­ings with Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas and Jor­da­nian King Ab­dul­lah II, Kerry told re­porters that Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu had agreed to King Ab­dul­lah’s sug­ges­tion to in­stall the 24-hour cam­eras at the holy site, which has been a fo­cus of long-stand­ing ten­sions be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans.

“This will pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive vis­i­bil­ity and trans­parency,” Kerry said. “It could be a gamechanger in dis­cour­ag­ing any­body from dis­turb­ing the sanc­tity of the holy sites.”

How­ever, it is un­clear ex­actly how the pro­posed ad­di­tion of more cam­eras would lessen ten­sions or change the sit­u­a­tion in any mean­ing­ful way. Is­raeli author­i­ties al­ready op­er­ate more than 300 se­cu­rity cam­eras in the flash-point area, of­fer­ing 24hour mon­i­tor­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the pro­posal from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice, even though Jor­dan’s for­eign min­is­ter, Nasser Judeh, to­gether with Kerry, said Ne­tanyahu would speak on the is­sue Satur­day night.

Judeh said Ne­tanyahu would re­peat Is­rael’s of­ten-stated com­mit­ment to main­tain the sta­tus quo, an un­writ­ten agree­ment by which non-Mus­lims are al­lowed to visit the mosque com­pound but are not al­lowed to pray there. Satur­day is Shab­bat in Is­rael, and even though it ends at night­fall, Ne­tanyahu rarely makes pub­lic speeches on Satur­day night. There was no in­di­ca­tion he would speak on the pro­posal be­fore Sun­day.

Is­raeli me­dia, how­ever, re­ported that Is­rael was pleased with the pro­posal, be­cause it would prove the gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing to change the sta­tus quo.

Kerry char­ac­ter­ized the se­cu­rity cam­eras as the “first step,” de­signed to calm a com­bustible sit­u­a­tion be­fore Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans can be­gin to ad­dress other is­sues.

Judeh said that ten­sions will quiet only when Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans be­gin to tackle the source of the con­flict.

“The root cause is the need to have a Pales­tinian state, liv­ing side by side with Is­rael,” he said.

Tech­ni­cians from Is­rael and Jor­dan, which is the cus­to­dian of the mosque com­plex un­der its 1994 peace treaty with Is­rael, will meet in the com­ing days to dis­cuss se­cu­rity on the site, in­clud­ing the cam­era in­stal­la­tion, Kerry said.

The cam­eras were the first prac­ti­cal sign that diplo­mats had made some head­way in try­ing to quell a month of al­most daily vi­o­lence in Is­rael and the West Bank, fu­eled in part by ru­mors that Is­rael was try­ing to en­croach on a cher­ished Mus­lim holy site that is also revered by Jews. Ne­tanyahu has la­beled the ru­mors “lies.”

In talks Thurs­day with the Is­raeli leader and Satur­day with the Pales­tinian and Jor­da­nian lead­ers, Kerry sought to en­cour­age more mod­er­ate rhetoric and greater “clar­ity” on what the sta­tus quo means to each side, di­min­ish­ing the chance of mis­un­der­stand­ings.

But some Pales­tinian of­fi­cials are skep­ti­cal that Kerry’s ef­forts will bring quiet to the re­gion.

Hanan Ashrawi, a se­nior Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fi­cial and former ne­go­tia­tor, called on Kerry to pres­sure Is­rael to end its oc­cu­pa­tion of ter­ri­to­ries out of which Pales­tini­ans as­pire to carve an in­de­pen­dent state.

“It’s not just about deal­ing with symp­toms,” she said. “Let’s deal with the causes, and then that’s how you can have sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity.”

Ashrawi said most Pales­tini­ans feel that they can­not rely on Wash­ing­ton to act as an im­par­tial me­di­a­tor.

“The Amer­i­can mo­nop­oly on at­tempts to launch peace ini­tia­tives has only en­abled Is­rael, be­cause the U.S. to­tally sup­ports Is­rael,” she said.

Pales­tinian dis­con­tent that many years of ne­go­ti­a­tions have failed to bring about a state of Pales­tine has boiled over in re­cent weeks. Ten Is­raelis have been killed, most in stab­bings by young Pales­tini­ans. About 50 Pales­tini­ans have been killed, half of whom Is­rael said were at­tack­ers.

Even as Kerry was in­volved in talks in Am­man, the vi­o­lence con­tin­ued. Is­raeli author­i­ties re­ported more at­tacks Satur­day by Pales­tinian as­sailants in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

One at­tempted stab­bing near the north­ern West Bank city of Jenin re­sulted in Is­raeli se­cu­rity per­son­nel shoot­ing dead the Pales­tinian as­sailant, Is­rael’s mil­i­tary said. The man at­tacked Is­raeli se­cu­rity guards at the al-Jalama check­point that con­nects the oc­cu­pied West Bank with Is­rael, the mil­i­tary said.

Lo­cal me­dia also re­ported that Is­raeli po­lice were search­ing for a Pales­tinian man who tried to stab an Is­raeli in East Jerusalem.

Many of the re­cent at­tacks have been car­ried out by ap­par­ent lone-wolf as­sailants who are young and ap­pear to have no ties to Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal fac­tions. The ap­par­ent ran­dom na­ture of the vi­o­lence may com­pli­cate ef­forts by Pales­tinian lead­ers to im­pose calm.

The burst of at­tacks, how­ever, has shown signs of ta­per­ing off in re­cent days. Even as Pales­tinian fac­tions called for a “day of rage” on Fri­day, there were mostly scenes of calm in Jerusalem’s Old City. Thou­sands of Pales­tinian wor­shipers prayed Fri­day with­out in­ci­dent at the al-Aqsa Mosque, which has been at the cen­ter of the re­cent un­rest. Is­raeli author­i­ties eased re­stric­tions on age and gen­der for wor­shipers at the mosque, which is Is­lam’s third-holi­est shrine.

But many diplo­mats re­main con­cerned that the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict could spiral out of con­trol and spread through the re­gion. The con­cern is par­tic­u­larly acute in Jor­dan, where more than half the pop­u­la­tion is of Pales­tinian ori­gin.

Kerry met Fri­day in Vi­enna with other rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the so-called Quar­tet of Mid­dle East peace me­di­a­tors. The group, which in­cludes Rus­sia, the Euro­pean Union and the United Na­tions, urged Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers to ex­er­cise “max­i­mum re­straint” and avoid provoca­tive rhetoric to calm the sit­u­a­tion. They also called for steps that would re­store hope in a ne­go­ti­ated two-state so­lu­tion “that re­solves the fi­nal sta­tus is­sues, in­clud­ing that of Jerusalem and ends the oc­cu­pa­tion that be­gan in 1967.”

Both Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers have agreed that in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric has height­ened ten­sions, but each blames the other side for sow­ing fear and dis­cord.


U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry, left, speaks with Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas af­ter their meet­ing in Am­man, Jor­dan.

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