Netanyahu flies to Jordan for a surprise meeting with the king

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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Jordan on Tuesday to meet with King Abdullah II, his first visit since taking power at the helm of the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in history.

The rare meeting between the leaders, who have long had a rocky relationship, comes as friction grows between the neighbors over Israel’s new ultranationalist government, which took office late last year. The talks centered on the status of a disputed holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City dedicated to both Jews and Muslims, according to Jordan’s official statement.

Jordan’s royal court said the king urged Israel to respect the status quo at the holy site, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and the Jews call the Temple Mount.

Under an arrangement that has existed for decades under the Jordanian protectorate, Jews and non-Muslims are allowed to visit during certain hours but are not allowed to pray there. Religious nationalists, including members of Israel’s new governing coalition, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, angering the Palestinians. and Muslims around the world.

The compound – the third holiest site in Islam – sits on a sprawling plateau also home to the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.

At Tuesday’s meeting, King Abdullah II also urged Israel to “stop its acts of violence” that are undermining hopes for a final peaceful settlement to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jordanian government said. reaffirms support for a two-state solution. Israel’s new coalition has pledged to expand Jewish settlements in the inhabited West Bank and even annex the area – which would make an independent Palestinian state impossible in the future.

Netanyahu’s office said he discussed “regional issues” and security and economic cooperation with Jordan, a key regional ally. Jordan’s 1994 treaty normalizing ties with Israel produced a tepid peace at best between the countries. Netanyahu has repeatedly given assurances that there has been no change to the status quo at the site.

The Jordanian government has already summoned the Israeli ambassador to Amman twice in the past month since the new Israeli government took office – both times after an incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Earlier this month, Israel’s new national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, made a provocative visit to the site, drawing criticism from Jordan and across the Arab world. Jordan also protested against Israel after Israeli police prevented the Jordanian ambassador from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque, dismissing the move as an unusual case for Jordan’s role as a custodian. .

The compound is administered by Jordanian religious authorities as part of an unofficial agreement after Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel is in charge of security on the site. Because of Jordan’s location and the importance of the site to Muslims around the world, anything that happens at the site has regional implications.

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