RAMALLAH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly been shocked by the strong Arab reaction to the visit of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex by his National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Saudi Arabia has led a chorus of condemnation following the Jan. 3 visit, stressing the need to preserve the status quo of Islam’s third holiest site.
Netanyahu’s visit to the UAE, scheduled for Jan. 8, has been canceled as the country has joined China in calling for the convening of a UN Security Council meeting to discuss Israel’s moves over Al-Aqsa.
Netanyahu is waiting on the Emiratis to announce a new date for the visit.
The prime minister has issued a statement in which he tried to apologize, adding that he respects the status quo at the mosque and has no intention of altering it.
However, Ben-Gvir remains hostile toward Arabs and has been convicted in the past of terrorism against Palestinians by an Israeli court.
Israel has continued its efforts to prevent a Security Council meeting — which was initially scheduled for Thursday — and the publication of a strong statement condemning Israeli policy toward Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem.
Ronni Shaked, a researcher at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Netanyahu failed to realize the sensitivity of Al-Aqsa among Arabs and Muslims.
He added the prime minister was shocked at the reaction from the Arab and Muslim world, the EU and the US, saying that any violation of the site could lead to massive anger and instability.
“The problem is not with Ben-Gvir, who is known for his extremist ideological ideas, but rather with one who granted him the permission to visit Al-Aqsa, which is Netanyahu,” Shaked told Arab News.
“Ben-Gvir will work to shorten the life of Netanyahu’s government.
“After two weeks he will demand the legalization of 49 illegal settlement outposts established on Palestinian land in the West Bank. So what will Netanyahu do then?”
Israeli experts say that Netanyahu is currently focused on dealing with corruption cases against him which weaken his position.
However, Dana Ben-Shimon, a correspondent for Israel Today, told Arab News that Netanyahu and his ministers were surprised by condemnation of Ben-Gvir’s visit, adding that the government is set to hold a meeting to discuss whether to allow the minister to enter Al-Aqsa again.
“Netanyahu was prime minister for 10 years, and did not visit Al-Aqsa because he realized that his visit would generate massive anger,” Ben-Shimon said.
The prime minister will also be mindful of Jordan’s reaction to the mosque visit as Netanyahu bids to improve rocky relations with Amman.
Separately, authorities have released Palestinian prisoner Karim Younis, 66, from prison in Israel after 40 years in detention.
At Ben-Gvir’s request, authorities left Younis on the street to prevent any official reception for him at the entrance to his prison just north of Tel Aviv.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he intended to withdraw Younis’ Israeli citizenship. In such an event, he would be sent to live in the West Bank.
Younis visited the grave of his parents, who died while he was in jail, and said that he was ready to sacrifice another 40 years for the freedom of the Palestinian people.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army has informed Palestinian officials of their imminent plans to forcibly displace more than 1,000 residents, including 500 children, in the Masafer Yatta area of southern Hebron in the south of the West Bank, according to human rights organizations.
Israeli forces killed a 16-year-old Palestinian, Amer Abu Zeitoun, on Thursday during a raid on Nablus. The killing brought to four, including three children, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the first week of January.