WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Obama administration condemned escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians and called for a full return to the status quo at the Temple Mount.
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms violence against Israeli and Palestinian civilians,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
“We call upon all parties to take affirmative steps to restore calm and refrain from actions and rhetoric that would further inflame tensions in that region of the world,” he said. “We continue to urge all sides to find a way back to the full restoration of the status quo at the Temple Mount in Haram al-Sharif, the location that has precipitated so much of the violence that we’ve seen there.”
There has been an escalation of shooting and stabbing attacks on Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem in recent months, especially over the past several days. The Palestinians have accused Israelis of violent retaliation and Israeli authorities of increased repression to quell the violence.
Each side also says the other is violating the status quo at the Temple Mount, a holy site for Jews and Muslims, which allows Jews to visit but confine obvious worship to the adjacent Western Wall while leaving the day-to-day administration of the mosque compound to a Muslim authority, the Waqf.
In recent months Palestinians have accused Israeli officials of encouraging worship on the Temple Mount, home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and site of the two ancient Jewish Temples, and Israelis have accused the Muslim authorities of encouraging harassment of Israeli visitors there. The Israeli and Palestinian governments have also accused one another of escalating tensions through incitement and inflammatory statements.
Pro-Israel groups in the United States have called on the Obama administration to pressure Palestinian leaders into tamping down their alleged incitement.
“The leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and in particular, President [Mahmoud] Abbas, must be held to account for their direct and indirect roles in inciting the populace, especially the frequent references to Al-Aqsa being ‘under siege’ when they know that not to be the case,” said a statement Wednesday by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We call on the United States government, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars of funding each year to the Palestinian Authority, to demand that Palestinian officials act decisively to curb the violence,” the statement said. “We know that President Abbas can impact the ‘Palestinian street’ when he wants to. His failure to do so should bring a cut in funding and the isolation of Abbas until he takes concrete steps.
Abbas in an interview Wednesday with Haaretz said he was attempting to tamp down the violence.
“I’ve made clear a number of times that I don’t want to return to the cycle of violence,” Abbas told the newspaper. “We do not seek violence and have not sought to escalate it, but the aggression against the Al-Aqsa mosque and the worshippers in the mosque have led to this, and we are constantly trying to make sure it doesn’t intensify.”