May 10, 2021 - World

Israel calls on Biden administration to stay out of Jerusalem crisis

Jake Sullivan

National security adviser Jake Sullivan. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israeli officials have argued behind the scenes that the Biden administration shouldn't intervene over the recent escalation in violence between security forces and Palestinians at a holy site in Jerusalem, according to Israeli officials.

Why it matters: This is the first major crisis between Israel and the Palestinians that the Biden administration has had to deal with. Despite their resistance to any U.S. role in the crisis, the Israelis took the steps requested by the U.S. to de-escalate the situation.

  • After four years of close to no criticism by the Trump administration for its actions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Israeli government is now faced with a U.S. government that is much more critical.
  • At least 215 Palestinians were injured during clashes with Israeli police on Monday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, including 153 who were hospitalized, according to AP.

The big picture: President Biden has thus far viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a very low priority in comparison to other foreign policy issues.

  • The White House was not interested in spending much political capital or time on the issue, and was seeking to avoid a fight with Israel over the Palestinian conflict.
  • But the Jerusalem crisis that erupted over the weekend prompted many members of Congress and progressive organizations to weigh in and demand that the White House intervene.

Driving the news: The Biden administration has been monitoring the escalation in Jerusalem in recent days and raised its concerns with Israel both privately and publicly.

  • The issue was mainly being dealt with by the State Department, but the White House weighed in on Sunday when national security adviser Jake Sullivan called his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat.
  • The White House said Sullivan raised concerns about tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where 300 Palestinians are under threat of eviction from their homes.
  • Sullivan also "encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations" being held on Monday, according to a White House summary of the call.

The other side: The language used in the White House summary was quite mild and moderate, but the Israelis responded with their own version of the call that gave an impression the conversation was much more difficult.

  • Israeli officials said Ben Shabbat told Sullivan during the phone call that Israel believes the Biden administration and the rest of the international community should stay out of the crisis in Jerusalem and avoid pressing Israel.
  • Ben Shabbat told Sullivan that “international intervention is a reward to the Palestinian rioters and those who back them who were seeking international pressure on Israel," according to an Israeli official briefed on the call.

The Israeli official said Ben Shabbat told Sullivan that Israel is handling events in Jerusalem "from a position of sovereignty and responsibility regardless of Palestinian provocations."

  • The Israeli national security adviser told his U.S. counterpart that if the U.S. and the international community want to help in restoring calm, they should put pressure on the inciting elements on the Palestinian side, the Israeli official said.
  • The White House said Sullivan assured Ben-Shabbat that the U.S. will remain fully engaged in the days ahead to promote calm in Jerusalem.

The latest: In the hours since the call took place, the Israeli government took the steps the Biden administration requested.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the closure of the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors and later ordered the re-routing of an annual parade so that it would not pass through the Muslim Quarter and the Damascus Gate, two potential flashpoints in the old City of Jerusalem.

What’s next: The United Nations Security Council is meeting for a closed session later on Monday to get updates about the Jerusalem escalation.

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