Jordanian officials have reportedly warned that bilateral ties with Israel will suffer if Jerusalem’s new government tries to change the status quo arrangement on the flashpoint Temple Mount.
The warning from Amman, reported on by the Kan public broadcaster Sunday, underscored the potential diplomatic pitfalls awaiting Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu should he take power backed by far-right hardliners, as expected.
There is particular sensitivity around Israel’s ties with neighbor Jordan, which is custodian of the Temple Mount, setting up a potential clash with lawmakers from Netanyahu’s presumptive coalition who have pushed for Israel to assert its sovereignty over the Jerusalem holy site and allow greater Jewish freedom of religion.
“Any attempt to change the status quo on the Temple Mount will definitely harm ties between Jordan and Israel,” Kan quoted a Jordanian source saying.
The source took specific aim at Itamar Ben Gvir, the head of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party set to become part of the ruling coalition, who has made a point of touring the site during times of increased tensions.
Ben Gvir visiting the site and “making provocations” would be a whole different story if he does so as a government minister, the channel reported the Jordanian source as saying.
Ben Gvir and others in the Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance have long pushed for changes to the status quo, under which only Muslims are allowed to worship within the compound while Jews may visit the Judaism’s holiest site, but not pray there.
Netanyahu has indicated he is open to giving Ben Gvir a cabinet post. Among the positions he has aimed for is Public Security Minister, which would give him control of the police, the body that enforces the ban on Jewish prayer.
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.
Small changes at the site or to that arrangement are liable to spark protests which could snowball beyond Jordan or the Palestinians to the wider Muslim world. In 2017, Israel’s decision to place metal detectors at entrances to the site following a terror attack there led to days of riots, Jordanian threats and a Palestinian boycott.
Ties with Amman hit a low point while Netanyahu was prime minister, and spats have taken on personal dimensions: Last year, Jordan refused to give Netanyahu permission to overfly the country for a diplomatic visit in retaliation after Jordan’s crown prince was unable to the visit the al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel said at the time that the prince had brought along a larger security detail than planned for.
Ties improved while Netanyahu was in the opposition over the last 18 months, but analysts fear the relationship with Amman could get chilly again once Netanyahu tis confirmed as prime minister.
Netanyahu and his political allies won a 64-seat majority in last week’s election, paving the way for him to return to the premiership along with a government made up of Religious Zionism and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties.
Kan reported that the Jordanian source noted Netanyahu’s familiarity with the ramifications of ties becoming frayed again and the strategic importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
On Saturday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi brought up “provocations and violations” against Al-Aqsa and other Jerusalem holy sites in a Saturday meeting with UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland, Jordan’s state-run Petra News reported.