News Analysis: Israeli minister's Al-Aqsa compound visit has limited impact on Israel-Arab ties: experts

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JERUSALEM, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- The controversial visit of Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, which has sparked wide condemnation and criticism from the Arab world, might have limited negative impact on Israel's ties with Arab countries, experts said.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman of the Palestinian presidency, on Tuesday slammed the visit as "a challenge to the Palestinian people, the Arab nation, and the international community," warning that these provocations against sanctities will lead to more tension, violence and explosive conditions.

A rocket was launched toward Israel from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, but later fell within the strip.

Jordan summoned the Israeli ambassador and delivered a strongly-worded protest message. Other Arab countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Oman and Libya, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council, all condemned Ben-Gvir's behavior.

Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Tel Aviv University, warned that Ben-Gvir's visit may heighten the tensions with the Palestinians and increase the chance of various security incidents in the near future, including individual attacks, mass riots and rocket strikes from Gaza.

"All of these have the potential to lead to a broad and relatively rapid escalation," he added.

But Gadi Hitman, a Palestinian expert at the Ariel University, said that compared to the visit of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the flashpoint site in 2000 which trigged the second Palestinian armed uprising, the circumstances between Israel and Palestine have significantly changed.

"People may expect some quiet in the region if everything goes smoothly in the upcoming days," he told Xinhua.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday postponed his visit to the UAE planned for next week, in a move that was widely seen as a result of Ben-Gvir's action, though Netanyahu denied any connection between the two developments.

"Obviously, Arab countries do not like Ben-Gvir's decision, but so far, I don't see any harsh reaction from these states," said Hitman, adding that certain Arab states are not likely to cancel their peace accords with Israel.

Yonatan Freeman, an international relations expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Xinhua that due to the great mutual benefit, it is in the interest of both Israel and the Arab world to maintain or expand diplomatic ties.

Freeman said that even Israel and Saudi Arabia have the desire to improve ties as they face common challenges, notably the threat from Iran. "Thus, despite the condemnations, Ben-Gvir's visit is not likely to stifle the progress being made between the two countries," he noted.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the most sacred place, is regarded by Muslims as their third holiest site. It has been administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian body, since 1948. Under a 1967 agreement between Israel and Jordan, non-Muslim worshippers can visit the compound but are prohibited from praying there. Enditem

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