Israel's Sharon Rejects US View of His Temple Mount Visit

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Palestinian Authority's security chief did not anticipate a violent reaction to last week's visit to the Temple Mount by opposition Israeli lawmakers, a visit PA officials have blamed for triggering violent clashes in the region for the past six days.

Israeli Internal Security Chief Shlomo Ben-Ami said in a radio interview on Tuesday that his PA counterpart, Jibril Rajoub, told him before the visit that he did not "anticipate" an outbreak of violence as long as Likud leader Ariel Sharon actually did not enter the mosques on the Mount.

Sharon has been vilified throughout the Arab world and criticized by some western leaders for visiting the Temple Mount last Thursday. He did not enter the mosques located there but only visited the surrounding platform or compound.

Palestinians protesting the visit by Sharon and fellow Likud members began throwing stones. Later, Palestinians threw rocks at Jews praying at the Western Wall below. Riots quickly spread and soon were occurring across the disputed territories and in Israeli Arab communities.

One day before the Temple Mount visit, Rajoub made his assessment about the possible security implications in a telephone conversation with Ben-Ami, said Moshe Debi, a spokesman for Ben-Ami.

Israel would only have considered canceling Sharon's visit for security reasons, Debi added. "There wasn't any security reason" to cancel Sharon's visit, he said.

Comment from Rajoub's office was unavailable Tuesday.

In a public statement before Sharon's visit, Rajoub warned that he would not act to quell any violence should it erupt and spread through the territories as a result of the visit.

Letter to Albright

Sharon has denied that his visit to the site had anything to do with the violence that he said had begun several days earlier with an escalation of attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The Likud leader rejected a U.S. State Department official's assessment of his Temple Mount visit.

In a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sharon said he found it "totally unacceptable" that the Secretary's spokesman had made a "false statement [that the visit] 'may have caused tension,' insinuating that it ignited the riots and disturbances in Jerusalem that spread to Judea, Samaria and Gaza and later, to Israel itself."

Last Friday, the day after trouble erupted, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "Provocations that lead to tension need to be avoided."

In answer to a specific question about Sharon's visit, Boucher replied, "We, I think,
are quite concerned that the visit by Sharon to this site risked creating tensions, and in fact it did ... We think it is incumbent upon people on both sides to avoid actions that inflame the situation and create tension."

(Albright herself made a comment that was interpreted to mean that Sharon's visit had been "counter-productive." However, State Department spokesman Phil Reeker later said Albright had in fact said that the "violence clearly counter-productive.")

Sharon said it was "most regrettable and disturbing" that Boucher had been "swayed by slanderous propaganda on the part of the Palestinian leaders and media, intended to put pressure on Israel and the U.S. to make additional concessions in the negotiations, under threat of violence if their demands are not met."

He said it was not his visit to the Temple Mount that "ignited" the violence.

Israel's security establishment had already concluded that "the violent riots and armed confrontations are part of a premeditated and organized campaign initiated by the Palestinian Authority" that began more than 10 days ago in the Gaza Strip.

"Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak has already stated very clearly that every Israeli citizen, be it Arab or Jew, has a right to visit any place which is under Israeli sovereignty," Sharon added.

He said, despite the violence, that he was still committed to achieving peace with Israel's Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians.

The Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, is also the location of two mosques, one of which is the third holiest in Islam.

It has been under Israeli sovereignty since Israel reunited Jerusalem under its control in 1967. However, Israel has allowed the Islamic religious authorities to maintain the site.