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Jordanian FM appears to assail Netanyahu for cancellation of Temple Mount visit

Hours after spat with Amman forces him to cancel planned trip to the UAE, PM asserts matters with Jordan have been straightened out

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi speaks during a joint conference with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit in the Jordanian capital Amman, on January 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)
Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi speaks during a joint conference with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit in the Jordanian capital Amman, on January 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Thursday blamed Israel for the cancellation of Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein’s visit to the Temple Mount, accusing the Jewish state of reneging on agreed terms for the trip.

Safadi’s comments came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped a trip to the United Arab Emirates, citing Jordan’s delay in granting overflight permission. The Prime Minister’s Office said the delayed approval appeared to be in retaliation for the cancellation of Hussein’s planned visit Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference, Safadi seemed to blame the spat on the upcoming Israeli elections, in remarks apparently aimed at Netanyahu.

“What makes things worse those who are toying with the region and its peoples’ right to live in peace for the sake of electoral and populist concerns… destroying the trust which is the basis for ending the conflict,” Safadi said.

He noted the prince had been set to visit on Lailat al-Miʿraj, a holiday marking a journey undertaken by the Prophet Muhammad.

Jordan’s Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah addresses the United Nations General Assembly, at United Nations headquarters, September 21, 2017. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

“We had reached arrangements for visits with the Israeli side. We were surprised when they sought to impose new arrangements and change the plan for the visit in a manner which would have distressed Jerusalemites during that night of worship. As such, the crown prince decided that he would not impose that upon Muslims or disturb the purity of that night,” Safadi said.

He added: “Al-Aqsa mosque is entirely a place of worship for Muslims. Israel has no sovereignty upon it…nor do we accept any Israeli intervention in its affairs.”

Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognizes Jordan as the custodian of the Temple Mount — which houses the mosque.  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 Six Day War and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. 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.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Israel’s account differs from Safadi’s, with officials 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.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also appeared to accuse Netanyahu of responsibility for the incident, saying in a statement Thursday that Israel is “committed to agreements with the Jordanians and has great respect for the Jordanian government and King Abdullah.”

He accused Netanyahu of “heavily damaging” the relations in recent years through his conduct, without further specifying. Gantz, who a report last month said met secretly with Jordanian King Abdullah II, has previously issued similar criticism of Netanyahu over Israel’s ties with Jordan.

Netanyahu later said Israel had straightened out matters with Jordan and that he would visit the UAE soon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan, Jordanian Royal Palace)

The premier had been scheduled to meet the crown prince in his first official visit to the UAE since Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi forged diplomatic ties last year.

Reports on Wednesday suggested Netanyahu may have also been hoping to meet Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and/or Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during the trip, which was scheduled to be held 12 days before Israel holds its fourth national election in two years.

The trip to the UAE had been planned for several months but postponed on numerous occasions, most recently in February. 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.

A man waves a large United Arab Emirates flag outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on August 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office said last month that the trip would be indefinitely postponed due to the closing down of air travel to and from Israel as part of a national lockdown aimed at preventing coronavirus variants from being imported from abroad.

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.

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.

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