It’s time to end Jordan’s special status on the Temple Mount – opinion

If Jordan can’t or won’t use its influence to calm the Temple Mount year after year, there’s no point being the holy site’s custodian in the first place.

By Pesach Benson, World Israel News

How many times have we seen the following dance?

Step 1. Ahead of Ramadan, Israeli and U.S. officials implore Jordan’s King Abdullah to use his influence as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites to calm tensions on the Temple Mount.

Step 2. Youths stockpile rocks in the Al Aqsa Mosque. Violence breaks out as Palestinians clash with Israeli police, throwing rocks and firecrackers onto Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below. Rioters then barricade themselves inside Al Aqsa.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas whips up the Palestinians with rumors of about Israel judaizing the holy site and Hamas threatens rocket fire.

Step 3. The Western media portrays the Palestinians as heroically defending their holy site against faceless Israeli policemen. The Arab world denounces Israel, the UN Security Council meets to discuss the issue and the U.S. issues appeals for calm on both sides.

Step 4. Ramadan ends and the violence peters out. But other than Hamas, nobody’s happy because it’s a known fact that next Ramadan, it’ll be the same dance all over again.

This year, however, featured a slightly new step. On Monday, to the anger of Israel, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh praised the Palestinian rioters.

“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,” Khasawneh said in an address to the Jordanian parliament.

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King Abdullah has not distanced himself from Khasawneh’s incitement.

Moreover, Jordan is now pointing fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood — specifically, its Israeli affiliate, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. The Northern Branch is led by Sheikh Raed Salah who has been in and out of prison for stirring up trouble on the Temple Mount.

The Northern Branch in particular organizes the Mourabitoun (literally “defenders of the faith”) who harass Jews visiting the Temple Mount. Israel has outlawed the Mourabiton.

“This is a fifth column, which is increasingly occupying the Temple Mount, taking advantage of the Jordanian weakness from here and the weakness of the Israeli government from here,” the Jordanian official warned in  a comment to TPS.

Adding insult to injury, Jordan unhelpfully denounced Israeli crowd restrictions on Orthodox Christians celebrating the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Scuffles broke out on Saturday as some worshippers sought to push their way past police into the church.

Police said they wanted to prevent a crowd stampede like last year’s Meron tragedy in which 45 people were killed. The crowd size was based on the size of the church and its number of exits.

The church is administered in a delicate status quo among several Christian denominations. Jordan is not a party the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s affairs.

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Breaking the cycle of Ramadan violence means asking some hard questions about Jordan’s “special role” on the 37-acre esplanade. Israel needs to mull alternatives to Amman.

Jordan’s special role

The Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement of 1994 commits Israel to “respect the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem” and that “when negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.”

In practice, this means that the Islamic Waqf, the trusteeship that administers the Temple Mount’s daily affairs, is overseen by the Jordanian monarchy. The Waqf is funded by Jordan and its senior leaders are approved by the Jordanian cabinet.

The Waqf also oversees Jerusalem’s mosques, Islamic schools, religious courts, orphanages and museums. In 2017, the Times of Israel reported that the Waqf employs 900 people in Jerusalem.

That’s considerable influence.

For several years, the Supreme Muslim Council running the Waqf was dominated by local Palestinians with Jordanian acquiescence. But in April 2021, Jordan “reconfigured” the Waqf council, expanding it from 18 to 23 members and giving those positions to Jordanians.

It’s believed that the Palestinian council members, several of whom have ties to Fatah, prefer taking a more confrontational approach to Israel than Amman prefers.

Nevertheless, despite the “new, improved” Supreme Muslim Council, Ramadan 2022 was more of the same.

Israel’s options

So what can Israel do?

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One obvious option is to simply act more unilaterally on the Temple Mount.

This wouldn’t even require measures that strengthen Jewish prayer on the esplanade or evicting the Waqf outright.

Rather, the status quo leaves Israel in charge of the Temple Mount’s security, so Israel remains within its rights to place metal detectors at the entrances to the sites, install security cameras and restrict access when security circumstances warrant — even at the risk of being the Grinch that steals Ramadan.

If Israeli leaders decide that direct administration of the Temple Mount is too risky, they should offer custodianship to someone else. The very idea, of course, is unpalatable because it goes against Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and Judaism’s holiest site.

But the mere threat of this carrot being offered — let’s say, to Saudi Arabia to close out a peace agreement — might be enough for Jordan to take its prestigious “special role” more seriously.

King Abdullah enjoys the prestige of being the custodian, and the legitimacy of his monarchy in large part rests on the title.

But being a custodian isn’t a ceremonial position. It requires someone to rein in the rioting youth, the Mourabiton and firebrands like Raed Salah. Watching Ramadan violence from the sidelines and issuing annual statements denouncing Israel doesn’t work anymore.

If Jordan can’t or won’t use its influence to calm the Temple Mount year after year, there’s no point being the holy site’s custodian in the first place.