‘Jordan’s Ben Gvir’: Israel said to accuse Amman’s FM of inflaming tensions

Israeli officials quoted railing at top Jordanian diplomat over response to clashes at flashpoint Temple Mount, amid strained bilateral ties

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi gives a joint press conference with his German counterpart on April 3, 2023 at the Foreign Office in Berlin. (John Macdougall/AFP)
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi gives a joint press conference with his German counterpart on April 3, 2023 at the Foreign Office in Berlin. (John Macdougall/AFP)

Renewed tensions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have further strained ties between Israel and Jordan, with Israeli officials reportedly accusing Amman’s top diplomat of fanning the flames at the flashpoint holy site that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told the Walla news site that Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s recent conduct and statements have exacerbated the crisis, adding that he has “acted like Jordan’s [Itamar] Ben Gvir” — a reference to the far-right Israeli national security minister, whose conduct and policies have been widely viewed as contributing to growing friction with the US and other countries.

Jordan has repeatedly lambasted Jerusalem in more than 10 statements over an incident last week in which cops entered Al-Aqsa to confront Palestinian rioters and were filmed beating some of them. At one point, Jordan refused to receive messages from Israel through the US or the United Arab Emirates, saying it would only accept direct messages and only if Israel commits to not enter the mosque again.

Safadi held a series of interviews with international media in which he voiced scathing criticism of Israel and also pushed for a UN Security Council meeting on the matter. According to Walla, he is still refusing to speak with Israeli government representatives and tensions remain very high.

The Israeli officials cited in the report said they had held positive meetings with Safadi ahead of Ramadan, when Israel-Palestinian tensions regularly flare over the Temple Mount, but that he adopted a hardline position as matters came to a head.

“The Israelis told the US in the last few days that the fact that no ‘explosion’ has happened [in relations] is the result of the Biden administration’s pressure on Jordan and the Waqf,” which administers the Temple Mount, an unnamed source was quoted as saying. “On the other hand, the Jordanians told the US that this was the result of the Biden administration’s pressure on Israel.”

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

The report came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Tuesday that Jews and other non-Muslims would be barred from visiting the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan, in order to prevent further clashes at the Jerusalem holy site that could spark a wider conflagration.

On Sunday, Jordan said that Israel would be responsible for any escalation that resulted from allowing Jews to ascend to the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, is the holiest place for Jews as the site of the two ancient Jewish temples, and Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest shrine in Islam.

Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo at the site, whereby Jews are allowed to visit there — under numerous restrictions and only during limited hours — but not pray. However, Jews have increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there, while Palestinians have instigated violence at the site and unilaterally designated more parts of the site for Muslim prayer.

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. Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognized Amman’s “special role… in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”

Muslim worshippers pray as Israeli security forces escort Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount complex on April 9, 2023, during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, also coinciding with the Jewish Passover holiday. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Prior to the recent tensions over the Temple Mount, a perennial thorn in Israeli-Jordanian ties, Amman summoned the Israeli envoy over far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s speech last month at a conference in Paris, during which he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention,” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that includes modern-day Jordan. Days earlier, Smotrich stirred international outrage with a call to “wipe out” a Palestinian town in the West Bank following the killing of two Israeli brothers in a terror attack.

In an interview released this week, Jordan’s first ambassador to Israel called for Amman to change its approach to relations in light of the current hardline government in Jerusalem and said there was no longer a chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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