White House Dispatches Peace Envoy to Ease Mideast Frictions

Updated on
  • Jordan bars exit of Israeli guard who killed embassy attacker
  • Netanyahu’s security cabinet to hold second emergency meeting

White House envoy Jason Greenblatt flew back to a more volatile Middle East on Monday as deadly violence that began over a Jerusalem shrine spilled over into the Israeli Embassy in Jordan, leading to a diplomatic standoff between two key American allies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet was set to convene for the second time in 24 hours as his government tries to bring back an embassy guard from Amman and ease unrest that has erupted over its installation of metal detectors at the shrine. Since Friday, when thousands of Palestinians faced off against Israeli police, violence has spread from the holy city to the West Bank, and defusing it has been complicated by the stabbing of an Israeli security official in Amman who shot two Jordanians to death.

Jordan is refusing to let the official leave the country until he is investigated, but Israel says he is protected from detention or questioning under the Vienna Convention. Netanyahu said his government is working through various channels to bring the security officer back.

Parliamentary Pushback

Lawmakers in Amman cautioned the government against cutting a deal to release the Israeli who killed two Jordanians. “This is outrageous,” said Saleh Armouti, a member of parliament and former president of the Jordan Bar Association. “He committed a crime and should be held accountable.”

The embassy shooting put previously low-profile U.S. efforts to end the confrontations over the Jerusalem holy site into high gear, reflecting the gravity with which the Trump administration views the flare-up that began this month over the new security arrangements at the Old City compound known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Al-Aqsa mosque complex. At the heart of the unrest are conflicting narratives over who controls the contested site, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.

Read more on the attack at the Israeli embassy in Jordan

Israel says the metal detectors are purely a security precaution, put in place after Israeli Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen at the site earlier this month. But Muslim opponents view them as cementing Israel’s grip over the holy place, where Israel maintains security control but Jordan is the religious custodian, under an agreement dating back to the immediate aftermath of the 1967 conflict. The site, which is Islam’s third-holiest shrine and is venerated by Jews as the location of their biblical temple, has been the flashpoint for violence in the past, including events that cascaded into the second Palestinian uprising.

The unfolding crisis prompted an emergency, closed-door session of the United Nations Security Council on Monday. Nikolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the situation could have “catatrophic costs.” The Security Council will have an open debate Tuesday on the Israel-Palestinian issue.

“It is extremely important that a solution to the current crisis be found by Friday,” Mladenov said after briefing a closed session of the Security Council. “The dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution.” 

Embassy Violence

In Jerusalem, Greenblatt met with Netanyahu and then headed to Amman, according to a U.S. official in Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity because no public statement was authorized.

President Donald Trump’s envoy was dispatched after a Jordanian workman of Palestinian descent attacked an Israeli Embassy security guard on Sunday with a screwdriver, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The guard, who was lightly injured, opened fire, killing his assailant and the landlord who was in the room at the time, according to the ministry.

Israel also sent an envoy to Amman to assess the situation, its ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, told reporters on Monday. Channel 2 television identified the representative as Nadav Argaman, head of the General Security Service, also known as the Shin-Bet. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment.

Jordan and Israel, both major U.S. allies in the region, signed a peace treaty in 1994, but relations have been fraught because of the failure to clinch an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Many Jordanians are of Palestinian descent, having fled there after escaping or being expelled from their homes in present-day Israel in fighting surrounding the Jewish state’s 1948 independence.

Greenblatt will be closely coordinating with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and point man on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statement was authorized.

— With assistance by David Wainer, Fadwa Hodali, Kambiz Foroohar, and Margaret Talev

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