Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Jordanian King Abdullah II called for calm following an historic summit in Amman, as the sharpest spike in terror attacks in Israel for years stokes fears of a wider escalation ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
By Erin Viner
In the first-ever official visit to Jordan by an Israeli head of state, President Herzog was welcomed at the Al Husseiniya Palace at an official ceremony yesterday that began with an honor guard against the backdrop of both nations flags.
“We are delighted to have you here; I think this is very important for all of us to see how we can chart a new course for the region and we welcome you and your delegation here, to Jordan,” said Abdullah in greeting Herzog.
Voicing gratitude for the invitation to visit, warm hospitality and friendship he received, the Israeli President’s Office said in a statement that Herzog described “this unique event” as an expression of “the friendship between our peoples.”
“I bring a message of warm regards and friendship from the Israeli people,” he added at the start of the diplomatic meeting between the two leaders and their delegations.
Pointing to the deaths of eleven people in Israeli by Arab and Palestinian assailants in shooting, stabbing and car-ramming attacks over the past week, Herzog appealed to the Jordanian King: “We must fight together against any type of terror and cooperate for the benefit of the security of our nations.”
A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah condemned “violence in all its forms” including the latest attack on Tuesday in which an Arab gunman killed at five people in Bnei Brak, and expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.
“And here, sir, I would like to point out that we completely and utterly condemn any kind of violence as we witnessed so many tragic attacks on civilians on both sides,” said the King Abdullah, adding, “I know, sir, in your heart and all of us around the table want to make sure that we continue to work to make sure that no innocent lives are ever lost and that every innocent live matters for all of us and I believe that as we look at the regional challenges and to bring hopes to our people we will continue to work in this endeavor to make sure that we can chart a future for all of us in this region.”
The Israeli leader thanked the King for his statements – “as well as many other nations and leaders, including in our region – condemning this heinous attack.”
Saying that the two countries “share common values of prosperity and peace” based on their 1994 peace treaty “which was carved out by the late King Hussein, your legendary father, as well as by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,” President Herzog said, “Together, we must now move forward, and we are offering an alternative. As against the horrible scenes of yesterday, we offer a different alternative of people-to-people dialogue, of respect, of speaking to each other, of showing the region that there could be a different way.”
Stressing “the fact that Muslim leaders are meeting together Jewish leaders and Israeli leaders is an alternative to the abyss of hatred and bloodshed,” he added, “And therefore we move forward with partnerships, with dialogue, towards peace and prosperity for the benefit of all peoples of the region, including our nations and including our Palestinian neighbors.”
The Israeli leader said, “as we enter these holy days, for all three religions, with Easter, Passover, and of course Ramadan, we must move towards enabling everyone to practice their beliefs in safety, in security, in calm circumstances. This is what we need to work towards, and we know that there is a constant dialogue between the Israeli Government and your government towards that goal, as well as all other partners in the region,” and concluded his public statements by wishing King Abdullah, his family and “the entire people of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan a ‘Ramadan Kareem’ (holiday greeting) in peace and prosperity.”
The Jordanian Monarch responded that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has dragged on for far too long” resulting in “too much agony,” while “unfortunately providing fertile ground to extremism on all sides.”
Confirming commitment to continue joint “initiatives to work to achieve peace” so “that Palestinians and Israelis do not continue to pay the price and so that the whole region can realize its potential,” Abdullah told Herzog, “I think that is our march orders here of how to really move towards the light away from the darkness that we have suffered over the past several years.”
Both countries have engaged in a flurry of top-level diplomatic and security talks in recent days to reduce tensions that Jordan fears could spiral with repercussions in the Hashemite Kingdom where many of its citizens are of Palestinian origin. Anti-Israeli sentiment runs rife in Jordan.
“We do look at the challenges of next month” of holidays by all three of the monotheistic religions, said Abdullah, saying “I know that we will be working very closely together all three of us to avoid measures that could hinder Muslim worshipers access to Al-Aqsa and al-Haram al-Shareef (Temple Mount) and preserve the legal and historical status quo of Jerusalem and the holy sites.”
Concern over over a resurgence of Palestinian rioting during the Islamic holiday was also a topic of discussion in Washington recently between top United States officials and the Director of the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), Ronen Bar.
Last year, Ramadan was marred by serious clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police in Jerusalem, holy to all three faiths. The wave of violence helped stoke the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls last May, when Palestinian terror groups in Gaza fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel starting with a heavy attack on the capital.
While Israel asserts sovereignty over all of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible capital,” Jordan’s Hashemite ruling family is the Custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in the city administered by the Amman-backed Waqf Islamic authority.
In efforts to preserve calm during periods of tension, Israel has imposed age restrictions on Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa and Palestinian entry into Jerusalem from the West Bank.