JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman on Tuesday in what both sides said was an effort to maintain calm in Jerusalem ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s meeting with Abdullah was his second this year, and is part of a broader effort by the new Israeli government to cultivate closer relations with its neighbor after years of neglect.
It came a day after Jordan’s king visited the West Bank and met with Palestinian leaders while Israeli and Arab diplomats held a summit with the visiting American secretary of state in southern Israel.
The king’s high-profile visit — his first in nearly five years — and Jordan’s absence from the ministers’ meeting, were reminders that the Palestinian issue has not disappeared from the regional agenda.
Tensions between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem during last year’s Ramadan helped contribute to the eruption of the 11-day war between the militant group Hamas and Israel in May.
Gantz’s office said the two discussed “measures that Israel is planning to take in order to enable freedom of prayer in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names, as well as “additional civilian measures that will benefit Palestinians.”
The Royal Palace said that the king “stressed that maintaining the comprehensive calm requires respecting the right of Muslims to perform their religious rites in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The mosque is built on a hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount. The disputed compound is a frequent flashpoint of violence.
During Gantz’s visit to Jordan, Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s office said he would be paying a state visit to Amman on Wednesday to meet with Abdullah and discuss “deepening Israeli-Jordanian relations.”
Although Herzog paid a clandestine visit last year after taking office, his trip to Amman would be the first official state visit by an Israeli president since the two countries signed a landmark peace treaty in 1994. The Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial position.
Israel and Jordan maintain close security ties and have diplomatic relations, but relations soured in recent years over tensions around Jerusalem’s flashpoint holy site, Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process with the Palestinians.