Israel denies deal with Jordan to expand Waqf staff on Temple Mount

PM’s office rejects report that public security minister and police are okay with adding 50 new members, says 6 Hamas supporters fired

File: Waqf officials lead Muslim prayers outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on July 16, 2017, after refusing to go through metal detector gates set up by Israeli police. The gates were later removed. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Waqf officials lead Muslim prayers outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on July 16, 2017, after refusing to go through metal detector gates set up by Israeli police. The gates were later removed. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office denied on Tuesday that Israel has agreed to a demand from Jordan that it be allowed to increase the staff of the Waqf, the Islamic religious trust responsible for day-to-day administration of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

“There is no change or new development in the situation on the Temple Mount — Israel’s sovereignty is preserved,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

“All decisions will be made by the Israeli government out of considerations of sovereignty, freedom of religion and security, and without pressure from foreign factors or political factors,” the statement read, referencing comments made by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday.

The denial by the PMO came after it was reported by the Kan public broadcaster on Monday that Public Security Minister Omer Barlev had agreed to a request by Amman for expanded staffing at the site. The unsourced report said that the police would support the move.

Jordan, which ruled the West Bank and East Jerusalem from 1948 until the 1967 Six Day War, has long maintained that its treaties with Israel grant it custodianship over Jerusalem’s Christian and Muslim holy sites; while Israel has never accepted this claim, it grants day-to-day administration of the Temple Mount to the Jordan-funded Waqf.

The PMO statement did note that Amman had asked for an increase in staffing at the site, but denied that Israel had acceded to that request.

Muslim worshipers attend the morning Eid al-Fitr prayer, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 02, 2022.  (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

“About a month and a half ago, a Jordanian request was received to increase Waqf positions on the Temple Mount by 50, but Israel did not see fit to agree to the request,” the statement read.

The statement said that, in practice, six people who were found to support the Hamas terror group were removed from their positions on the Temple Mount, with 12 individuals given jobs at the holy site in their stead. The statement said that this replacement was within the existing agreed framework.

Known as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex to Muslims, the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest.

It has long been a flashpoint for violence and conflict, with tensions again surging in recent weeks, including Palestinian riots, clashes with the Israel Police, and Jewish attempts to pray on the Temple Mount.

Any changes to the longstanding status quo on the Mount, under which non-Muslims can visit but not pray, can lead to violence.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who is traveling in the US, where he is expected to meet with US President Joe Biden to discuss tensions over the holy site, addressed the issue Monday in a meeting with religious figures in New York, according to a statement from the royal court.

Palestinians chant slogans and wave Hamas flags during a protest against Israel, in front of the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

“The King reiterated that the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem is an honor and a responsibility that helps preserve the unity of all churches, and—more importantly—unity among the Muslim and Christian communities,” the statement read.

“The King reaffirmed Jordan’s commitment to the principles of interfaith harmony and dialogue, as well as moderation and openness, underscoring the promotion of peace and stability as pillars of Jordan’s foreign policy.”

Recent tensions on the holy site have been followed by terror attacks, pressure from Israel’s allies, threats from Hamas, and the exacerbation of the ongoing coalition crisis.

The clashes have also led to escalating diplomatic tensions between Israel and Jordan.

Abdullah has condemned Israel for the clashes, slamming the state for allowing Jewish pilgrims to enter the site and calling on the Israeli government to respect “the historical and legal status quo” there, according to a recent statement from the Royal Hashemite Court.

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