Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi on Friday lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a canceled visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein.
Safadi confirmed that Jordan held up granting Netanyahu overflight permission in retaliation, causing him to postpone a planned visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The diplomatic spat underscored Jordanian frustrations with Netanyahu and tensions between the two neighbors that have simmered for years.
Speaking CNN on Friday, Safadi was asked if Netanyahu was correct in blaming “difficulties” with Jordan on coordinating the overflight for the postponement of his Thursday UAE visit.
“You renege on an agreement with Jordan, you disrupt a religious visit, you create conditions that made this religious visit on a holy occasion impossible and then you expect to come to Jordan and fly out of Jordan? Let’s be serious here,” Safadi said.
Hussein had been set to visit the Temple Mount on Wednesday for Lailat al-Miʿraj, a holiday marking a journey undertaken by the Prophet Muhammad. Safadi accused Israel of violating an agreement on the arrangements for the visit, while Israel has said Hussein arrived with heavier security than promised.
“You disrupt a religious visit, you create conditions that made this religious visit on a holy occasion impossible, and then you expect to come to Jordan and fly out of Jordan-let's be serious here.” @AymanHsafadi on Israel blaming Jordan for PM’s cancelled UAE trip. pic.twitter.com/yLDp3O7vhQ
— Connect the World (@CNNConnect) March 12, 2021
“A religious visit for worship at an extremely holy occasion was disrupted by Israeli measures that we don’t understand and don’t accept,” Safadi said in the interview.
“Last minute Israel reneged on those agreements, they violated their obligations as an occupying power and they also violated the right of freedom of worship, so that’s something we’re extremely unhappy with and angry about.”
Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognizes Jordan as the custodian of the Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam.
Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, where Jews are allowed to visit, but not to pray.
Safadi’s latest criticism came a day after he said the Israelis had wanted to unilaterally set restrictions on the royal visit and appeared to blame the spat on the upcoming Israeli elections, in remarks apparently aimed at Netanyahu.
Israel has disputed Safadi’s account, with officials quoted by the Kan public broadcaster saying the prince’s security delegation that arrived at the border was both larger and more heavily armed than had been agreed. The report said that when Israeli authorities insisted the Jordanians keep to the terms of the agreement, Hussein canceled the visit.
Netanyahu said Israel straightened out matters with Jordan and that he would visit the UAE soon.
The premier had been scheduled to meet the Emirati crown prince in his first official visit to the UAE since Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi forged diplomatic ties last year.
While no alternative date for the trip has been given, Channel 12 news said in an unsourced report on Friday that Netanyahu will travel to the UAE this week.
The network also reported the US told the UAE to scale back Netanyahu’s trip, before it was canceled, due to concerns over interfering in Israel’s March 23 elections. The planned visit was reduced to a short stay at the airport, the report said.
Separately, an unsourced Channel 13 news report said Netanyahu wanted to sign a peace treaty with Sudan while in Abu Dhabi, but the US told the UAE hosting such a ceremony would amount to election interference.
Hebrew media reports on Wednesday suggested Netanyahu may have also been hoping to meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and/or Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the trip, which was scheduled to be held 12 days before Israel holds its fourth national election in two years.
Netanyahu has been seen as eager to make the trip before the March 23 elections.
Surveys show the prime minister struggling to muster the 61-seat Knesset majority that would enable him to form a coalition, though his rivals also have no clear route to power, and the timing of the trip could have bolstered Netanyahu’s campaign.
The trip was expected to be a celebration of Israel’s normalization deals as well as a move to boost Netanyahu’s diplomatic credentials ahead of the elections. Netanyahu may also have hoped to use the visit to consolidate a campaign against a US return to the Iran nuclear deal.
The trip to the UAE had been planned for several months but postponed on numerous occasions. Netanyahu had originally been set to make the trip in November, then December, and then in January and February, but the pandemic, scheduling issues, and internal political crises led to repeated delays.
Emirati officials told the Walla news site Wednesday that there had been concerns the visit would be seen as an intervention in the Israeli elections, but in the end Abu Dhabi reluctantly agreed to the trip.
Israel on Friday approved granting entry to 700 Jordanians to work in Eilat’s hotel industry and slight eased restrictions on land border crossings with Jordan and Egypt.