By Ali Sawafta
Palestinian officials reacted warily on Sunday to what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hailed as Jordan’s “excellent suggestion” to calm Israeli-Palestinian violence by putting a sensitive Jerusalem holy site under constant video monitoring.
“This is a new trap,” Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Voice of Palestine radio, accusing Israel of planning to use such footage to arrest Muslim worshippers it believes are “inciting” against it.
Although Israeli security forces control the al-Aqsa mosque compound and Jordan is its religious custodian, it was unclear how new cameras could be installed without stoking more violence at the flashpoint site if Palestinians objected to them.
Kerry, who met Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Saturday, said Israel gave assurances it has no intention of changing the status quo at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is holy to Muslims and Jews.
Kerry said camera surveillance “could really be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity” of the area, which Israel captured along with the rest of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in a 1967 war.
Muslim fears that Israel seeks to lift its long-standing ban on Jewish prayer at the site have fuelled a three-week-old wave of Palestinian stabbings in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Israeli cities. Israel has repeatedly denied the allegation, which has been amplified by social media and past visits to the compound by ultranationalist Israeli politicians.
In an incident on Sunday, Israeli paramilitary police in the West Bank city of Hebron shot dead a Palestinian woman who a police spokeswoman said drew a knife and approached them, shouting, after they asked her to identify herself.
At least 53 Palestinians, about half of whom Israel says were assailants, have been killed in attacks and during anti-Israeli protests in the West Bank and Gaza since Oct. 1. Nine Israelis have been stabbed or shot dead by Palestinians.
Palestinians are also fuming over what they see as excessive use of force by Israeli police and soldiers. Israel says it is justified in using lethal force to meet deadly threats.
Kerry, stepping up diplomatic efforts to stem the worst Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed since the 2014 Gaza war, noted that Israel had accepted the proposal by Jordan’s monarch for round-the-clock monitoring by cameras.
There was no immediate comment from Abbas, but Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Abbas told Kerry “he should look into the roots of the problem – and that is the continued occupation”.
Speaking to his cabinet on Sunday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “has an interest in cameras being deployed everywhere on the Temple Mount” to refute claims that it is changing the status quo.
Erekat, accusing Netanyahu of “lying and lying”, said all the Israeli leader wanted to do was “to monitor and arrest our people”.
Israeli police cameras already cover the open areas of the compound, where Palestinians’ have frequently mounted stone-throwing protests against what they see as Jewish encroachment.
An Israeli defence official said the new plan called for cameras to be placed inside al-Aqsa mosque and to be viewed by Israel and Jordan.
Jews revere the site as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples. For Muslims, it is the Noble Sanctuary and Islam’s third holiest place.
In other violence on Sunday, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the military said. The wounded man fired at the assailant, who fled, and the Palestinian Health Ministry later said a Palestinian was hospitalised after being shot by an Israeli.