Jordan warns against changing status of Temple Mt., after Netanyahu’s Saudi trip

Jordanian ex-aides say Israel could seek to hand custodianship of the Jerusalem holy site to Saudi Arabia, in effort to secure ‘the big prize’ of normalization

Jordanians carry a model of the Dome of the Rock mosque during a demonstration in Amman against new Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount on July 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)
Illustrative: Jordanians carry a model of the Dome of the Rock mosque during a demonstration in Amman against new Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount on July 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

Jordan said it opposes any effort to change the status quo at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Saudi Arabia this week.

In a statement Wednesday, the Jordanian foreign ministry said it rejects “attempts to alter the historical and legal status quo” at the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“The kingdom will continue its efforts to protect and care for the mosque, and preserve the rights of all Muslims to it in compliance with the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites,” spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez said, according to the Guardian.

The comments came after Netanyahu held talks Sunday with Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi Red Sea city of Neom, along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reportedly including discussions on Iran and normalization.

The warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh are raising concerns in Amman that Israel could seek to shift custodianship over the Temple Mount from the Jordanians to the Saudis. Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy has been custodian of the site since 1924.

The Waqf, a Jordanian-appointed council, oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It claims exclusive authority over the Temple Mount compound and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction. Tensions often escalate at the site.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the Biblical Temples. It is the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam. Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 war, and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. However, it allowed the Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, and Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray there.

The players and coaches of the Saudi national football team pray at the Dome of the Rock mosque on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 14, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“Historically, the religious aspect was key in the legitimacy of the ruler and the Hashemites, after leaving Hejaz, derive their legitimacy from Jerusalem,” Adnan Abu-Odeh, a former senior aide to King Abdullah and his father Hussein, told the Guardian.

“Israel practices pressure and extortion over Jordan with the custodianship matter and they threaten to give it to the Saudis and it is not far fetched, and I believe his majesty the king understands that,” he added.

Echoing that sentiment, ex-foreign minister Jawad Anani said Saudi Arabia was “the big prize” for Netanyahu.

“Many Jordanians … [are] being vigilant about this. Netanyahu … might find it to be worthwhile giving this to the Saudi royal family rather than keep it with the Hashemites because that would probably bring him the prize he’s seeking, which is open and declared normalization with Saudi Arabia,” Anani said.

Though such a move could lead to improved ties with Saudi Arabia, former British diplomat Sir John Jenkins warned of the possible security consequences for Israel.

“It would radically crush the Hashemite monarchy and it would change the guarantee of sorts that Jordan has been providing for Israeli and regional security. It would be like throwing a grenade into a crowded room,” Jenkins, who was consul general in East Jerusalem and ambassador in Riyadh, told the newspaper.

He also noted the possible appeal to the Saudis.

“Iran has always challenged them on the legitimacy of their custodianship of Mecca and Medina. If they were to add a third shrine to their list, it could enhance their claims to be the absolute leaders of the Islamic world,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Jordanian King Abdullah II attend a welcome ceremony at the airport in the Jordanian capital Amman on March 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he’s under pressure to alter his country’s historic role as custodian of the Jerusalem holy sites, but that he won’t change his position.

“I will never change my position toward Jerusalem in my life,” Abdullah said at the time. “All my people are with me.”

He did not specify what kind of pressure he was encountering.

Jordan’s role as custodian was enshrined by the landmark Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement in 1994.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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