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Kerry: 'Firm Commitments' to Restoring Status Quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque

by Scott Stearns November 13, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian leaders have all agreed on steps to reduce tensions surrounding worshippers at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque. Those steps include Israel lifting restrictions that barred Muslim worshippers under the age of 35 from the mosque.

At issue in the recent outbreak of violence are new Israeli settlements on occupied territory and restrictions to the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site and the most holy in Judaism.

The crisis brought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Amman to meet with Secretary Kerry and Jordanian King Abdullah, who is the custodian of East Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound.

Speaking to reporters after those talks alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Naser Judeh, Secretary Kerry said there are "firm commitments" to restoring order.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly reaffirmed Israel's commitment to uphold the status quo on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and to implement these steps. And King Abdullah also agreed to continue to take affirmative steps to restore calm and implement practical measures to prevent further escalation of tensions," said Kerry.

Kerry declined to outline those measures because he said they might be misinterpreted. But he did say the proof is not in words but in actions.

Ending this violence is a regional priority, said Foreign Minister Judah.

"The tension in Jerusalem, as you have seen in the last few days, has sparked tension not just in Jerusalem and around Jerusalem but elsewhere in the West Bank, and this is something that concerns us all. And we need to restore calm because we need to think of the larger picture, and we need to think of the end objective that we all seek," said Judah.

Chief among those objectives is a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which Secretary Kerry discussed earlier in the day with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But the Palestinian leader may lack sufficient influence with his own people, said American University professor Guy Ziv.

"He does not have the political strength, and perhaps not even the personality to go for a big deal with Israel. And perhaps he's lost a lot of faith with Netanyahu's policies and does not believe that Netanyahu himself can deliver," said Ziv.

Ziv said the Israeli prime minister is also politically vulnerable.

"Unfortunately, Netanyahu has kind of a history of succumbing to pressure from the right. It also demonstrates his lack of seriousness about a two-state solution," added Ziv.

So Kerry leaves the Middle East, at best, returning to a status quo in which neither side has the political will to move forward toward a two-state solution. As for the al-Aqsa mosque, Israel has agreed to loosen age restrictions on worshippers starting Friday.

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