Saudi Arabia on the Temple Mount? Why Jordan now likes the idea

The sensitive and clandestine contacts were conducted under the radar by a limited team of diplomats from Israel, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Since December, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been conducting secret talks concerning giving the Saudis a presence on the Temple Mount, Israel Hayom reports on Monday.

The countries have been carrying out the secret negotiations through U.S. mediators in the context of the Trump Mideast peace plan. The Saudis would be given representation on the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the Muslim religious trust which manages the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount, including the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque.

“These are sensitive and clandestine contacts that were conducted in ambiguity and low intensity by a limited team of diplomats and senior security officials from Israel, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as part of the contacts to advance the deal of the century,” a senior Saudi official told Israel Hayom.

The surprise is that Jordan, which is the custodian of the Waqf, is in favor of the idea. The Hashemite regime’s legitimacy mainly derives from its unique custodianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem. It would not be expected to want to share it.

Up until a few months ago, it wasn’t. Jordan had expressed strong opposition to the idea of Saudi involvement.

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The reason for the dramatic change in attitude appears to be a challenge to its authority from Turkey. Under President Reccep Erdogan, Turkey has invested millions in the Old City and the Temple Mount in an attempt to raise its status in the Muslim world. Since 2004, Turkey has invested in 63 different projects “defending and strengthening the Muslim heritage and character of Jerusalem.”

Recently, Jordan allowed Palestinian representatives onto the Waqf religious council in contradiction of the Oslo Accords. Jordan felt pressured to do so after certain events increased tensions on the Temple Mount, which ended up strengthening the Palestinians and weakening the Jordanians.

However, once on the Waqf, the Palestinian representatives gave Turkish organizations free rein on the Temple Mount. Turkey has sent tens of millions of dollars to those organizations.

Jordan now finds itself in the position where it needs help in countering Turkish influence, which is undermining its authority. Israel Hayom reports that the Jordanians reached out to Israel and the U.S. and said it had softened its position regarding Saudi representation.

A senior Arab diplomat told Israel Hayom, “If the Jordanians had allowed the Turks to operate without interruption in al-Aqsa, within a few years they would have remained ‘only on paper’ as having a special status in managing the holy places of Islam. They need money and influence from Saudi Arabia to curb Erdogan.

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“Israel and the U.S. also have an interest here in their desire to support Saudi Arabia in advancing the deal of the century plan and during the process of annexation. Saudi Arabia also brings with it the support of the UAE and Bahrain,” he said.

Saudi Arabia would be given the status of observers so as not to harm the unique status of Jordan as guardian of the holy sites, the paper reports.