Jordan king says Muslims have ‘duty to deter Israeli escalation’ in Jerusalem

Abdullah II meets with delegation led by PA president, weeks after diplomatic tiff with Israel over Smotrich’s comments on Palestinians while standing behind ‘Greater Israel’ map

King Abdullah II of Jordan listens to French President Emmanuel Macron (not pictured) during a working lunch at the Al-Husseiniya Palace in the Jordanian capital Amman on December 21, 2022. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP)
King Abdullah II of Jordan listens to French President Emmanuel Macron (not pictured) during a working lunch at the Al-Husseiniya Palace in the Jordanian capital Amman on December 21, 2022. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP)

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s King Abdullah II expressed on Sunday a commitment to “safeguard” Jerusalem’s holy sites, in a meeting in Amman with Muslim and Christian religious leaders from the city.

A statement from the royal court said the king told the delegation, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, that Jordan “will always be with you.”

“It is the duty of every Muslim to deter Israeli escalations against… holy sites in Jerusalem,” the king said, according to the statement.

The king touted a longtime commitment to preserving “peace and harmony” at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount site, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary, Islam’s third holiest site. The Temple Mount is revered by Jews as the historic location of the two Jewish Temples, making it Judaism’s holiest site.

Jordan views itself as a custodian of the Temple Mount — a status Israel does not recognize, though it acknowledged the kingdom’s “special role” at the site in the countries’ peace treaty. Jordan in 1994 became the second Arab country to recognize and sign a peace treaty with neighboring Israel, after Egypt.

Many Palestinians reject the notion that the Temple Mount is holy to Jews, having accused Israel and Zionists for around a century of plotting to destroy the mosque and replace it with a Jewish temple — a move that is not supported by mainstream Israeli society.

Muslims offer prayer on the first Friday of Ramadan outside the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, almost two decades after Amman conquered it during the War of Independence in 1948. However, Israel allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount.

Under an arrangement that has prevailed for decades under Jordan’s custodianship, Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount during certain hours but may not pray there. In recent years, Jewish religious nationalists, including members of the new governing coalition like far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, infuriating the Palestinians and Muslims around the world.

In January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a previously unannounced visit to Amman to meet with King Abdullah II, in a sit-down where he reportedly promised that this status quo on the Temple Mount would be preserved.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)

In his remarks on Sunday, Abdullah also hailed “Jerusalemites’… efforts to safeguard” the holy sites and “stressed the need to stop the displacement of Christians, as well as the repeated attacks on churches, religious figures and Christian property in Jerusalem,” according to the statement.

Christian places of worship in Jerusalem have seen a wave of attacks in recent months, some of them blamed on Jewish extremists.

Churches in Jerusalem appealed to the government on Friday to ensure Christians are able to worship freely during Easter and its run-up, expressing concern at mounting violence and acts of desecration over the past year.

Jerusalem’s Catholic Christian community marked Palm Sunday with masses attending religious processions in the Old City.

Roman Catholic deacons walk with palm fronds as they circle in a procession around the Edicule, traditionally believed to be the burial site of Jesus Christ, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023, Palm Sunday according to Catholic Christians. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

The Jordanian king’s remarks followed tensions with the Israeli government over a far-right minister’s remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people and fears of a flare-up of violence during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on March 23.

During Sunday’s meeting the Jordanian king “called on the international community to take a stand against the exclusionary and racist statements made recently by some Israeli officials,” the statement said.

Last month, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Religious Zionism party caused an international outcry after saying in a speech at a conference in Paris that the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that includes modern-day Jordan.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks in Paris on March 19, 2023. (Ynet screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Tensions with Jordan flared and the kingdom summoned the Israeli envoy in protest, with Amman panning the “reckless incitement and a violation of international norms.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry sought to tamp down the backlash, tweeting that “Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan” and that “there has been no change in the position of the State of Israel, which recognizes the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom,” in both Hebrew and English.

National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi later phoned Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to offer a similar assurance regarding Israel’s commitment to its peace with Jordan.

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