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June 1, 2022 10:58 am
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Jordan and Israel Must Work Together on the Temple Mount

avatar by Tomer Barak

Opinion

Jewish visitors gesture as Israeli security forces secure the area at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 5, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The Temple Mount (known in Arabic as the Haram al-Sharif) is one of the holiest places on the planet for Jews and Muslims, but is also a focal point of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Like clockwork, the holy site erupts in chaos on several trigger dates that amplify day-to-day tensions surrounding the routine management of the Mount. The most sensitive dates are religious ones such as the month of Ramadan and the three Jewish pilgrimage holidays, as well as secular national dates like Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.

On those occasions, local clashes regularly erupt between worshipers and law enforcement personnel. This is accompanied by an oft-repeated Palestinian narrative — that there is a “Jewish Zionist attack” on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and it must be “saved” from Zionist attempts to “change the status quo.”

Jordan’s traditional role regarding Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is important. Jordan maintains a key role at the site, a role accepted by Israel in its 1994 peace agreement with the Hashemite Kingdom. Under those terms, the Jordanian Islamic trust, the Waqf, has official control over the sensitive site.

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Over the years, Jordan has capitalized on its ability to control and calm tensions, sometimes intervening only at the last moment, before disaster strikes, to show the stature of King Abdullah in the region.

As Ramadan approached this year, multiple parties, particularly the Jordanian leadership, made an effort to prevent a security deterioration. The Jordanian need for calm derived from the king`s attention to his internal arena — the economy and relations within the royal family. Moreover, the king had no wish to see a return to last year’s efforts by Hamas to link Gaza and Jerusalem, pushing Jordan out of the equation in the Holy City.

Nevertheless, the king`s efforts to coordinate between Israel and the Palestinians failed due to inflammatory acts from both sides.

At that point, Jordan changed its behavior and became increasingly confrontational toward Israel. The rationale behind this posture was to take advantage of the situation — bolstering the kingdom’s status in Jerusalem vis-a-vis regional competition (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Hamas), and amplifying the king’s regional role in the eyes of the Biden administration.

The Jordanian rhetoric was very harsh, blaming Israel for initiating escalation in Jerusalem, and “denying” Muslims freedom of worship, as well as allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount under police supervision. Meanwhile, Jordan initiated several regional and international diplomatic meetings, utilizing them to attack Israeli policy.

Jordan’s rhetoric came to a peak on April 18, when Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh went further than any Jordanian official had done until then, stating, “I salute every Palestinian, and all the employees of the Jordanian Islamic Waqf, who proudly stand like minarets, hurling their stones in a volley of clay at the Zionist sympathizers defiling the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli occupation government.”

This was active encouragement of violence — an unprecedented message from Amman.

But it wasn’t all bad news. In order to maintain the ability to de-escalate, Jordan did not sever its diplomatic ties with Israel, and the fact that such messages were not repeated is an indication that Jordan sought to walk them back behind the scenes.

Moreover, King Abdullah intervened and pressed the need for calm during a meeting with President Biden on April 25, in which he reaffirmed Jordan’s regional importance and its role in Jerusalem. According to several outlets, Jordan pressed the need to formulate new security arrangements on the Mount that would remove certain powers from Israeli security forces and transfer them to the Waqf.

In trying to assess the Jordanian game plan, it is clear that the inflammatory rhetoric and escalatory actions, especially by the prime minister, were a sign of distress — but they were not accidental.

Jordan lives under a continuous sense of a threat to the kingdom’s special role in Jerusalem, and the image of the king as the custodian of the holy places. It perceives that the erosion of this role will lead to a real threat to the Hashemite system as a whole.

Firstly, from the Jordanian perspective, Israel’s decision to increase the number of visitors to the Temple Mount and grant police new powers of enforcement there is perceived as an encroachment on the status quo. The reality is that there is a large increase in the flow of non-Muslim visitors to the Mount, with record-high numbers of more than 30,000 visitors since the beginning of the year.

At the same time, attempts by Hamas to take ownership of the Mosque very much disturb the Hashemite Kingdom. In Jordan’s net assessment, the kingdom has, over the years, been able to successfully maneuver by fending off challenges to its status in Jerusalem from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. However, the recent rapprochement of Israel with both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are alarming from the Jordanian perspective.

Israel has a clear interest in safeguarding its peace treaty with Jordan, which is a strategic asset. A stable and prosperous Jordan is an explicit Israeli interest.

At the same time, since the Palestinian conflict is not going to vanish, and the Temple Mount will likely produce further outbreaks of violence, Israel and Jordan should continue to work together to control stability in Jerusalem, especially on the Mount. Israel did well in restraining its public responses to provocative Jordanian statements, while making clear its dissatisfaction.

Israel and Jordan, alongside their neighbors, can have a better future. The Abraham Accords have already enabled an agreement with the UAE (with the US as a facilitator) on water and electricity swaps between the countries. But to press on and move forward, it is critical to work on trust. A mature discussion is needed to tackle differences. This would send an important message to the Jordanian public about the need to work with Israel, while also calming Israeli public opinion, which has grown increasingly flustered by Jordan’s hostile public posture.

LTC. Tomer Barak (IDF, Ret.) is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. He is a 21 year veteran of the IDF. He served in the Israeli Military Intelligence and in the Strategic Planning Division.

The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.

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