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Official laments UAE, Russian responses to Jerusalem unrest

Senior Israeli diplomat takes Jordan to task for harsh Temple Mount criticism

Official says Jerusalem willing to tolerate Amman’s ‘double game’ but Jordanian PM crossed a line when he hailed Palestinian stone-throwers

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Palestinians seen on the holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 17, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Palestinians seen on the holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 17, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

A senior Israeli diplomatic official on Wednesday accused Jordan of playing a “double game” with its responses to the recent unrest in Jerusalem — haranguing Israel in public while speaking more reasonably behind closed doors.

“They tell us that this is the way that they keep those calling for Jordan to sever its ties with Israel at bay,” the diplomatic official said during a briefing with Israeli reporters, part of which was held on condition of anonymity.

More than half of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian descent, and its 1994 peace treaty with Israel is heavily unpopular, particularly during periods of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Ties hit a nadir under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but there have been notable improvements since the new Israeli government was sworn in last June. Jordan’s King Abdullah has hosted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz for a meetings in recent months as coordination has expanded.

Israel and Jordan have also inked a UAE-brokered agreement that will see the construction of a major solar power plant in the Hashemite Kingdom to generate electricity for the Jewish state while a desalination plant established in Israel will send water to Jordan. The senior Israeli diplomat said he didn’t expect the recent tensions to impact that deal.

But Jordan has taken some steps against Israel in recent days, albeit largely symbolic ones. Amman summoned Israel’s ambassador for a dressing down after police entered the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque site multiple times in recent days to quash Palestinian rioters.

Jordan has accused Israel of violating the status quo at the site, under which Muslims are allowed to visit and pray while Jews cannot pray and may only visit during restricted time slots.

Israel insists that it is committed to the status quo and is safeguarding the rights of followers of all three religions in Jerusalem. But police have also in recent years allowed for Jews to quietly pray as they’re ushered through the site by employees of Jordan’s Islamic Waqf, in what amounts to a subtle violation of the fragile status quo on the site.

President Isaac Herzog (L) and Jordanian King Abdullah II at the Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 30, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“I’m prepared to accept this double game up to a certain point, but the line was crossed with the prime minister’s speech in parliament,” the official said, referring to Bisher Al-Khasawneh’s remarks earlier this week in which he praised Palestinians hurling stones at the “Zionist sympathizers defiling the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh addresses parliament in Amman on April 18, 2022 (Twitter screenshot)

The senior diplomatic official said no country can put up with this kind of speech from an ally and that the message was passed along to Amman at a level of assertiveness that the Jordanians are not used to.

The official went on to lament the UAE’s response to the recent unrest, while predicting that there would not ultimately be any damage to the bilateral ties that began just a year and a half ago.

The UAE summoned Israel’s ambassador to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and issued a statement afterward blasting the conduct of Israeli police on the Temple Mount. The UAE also spoke out aggressively against Israel at Tuesday’s closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on the issue, according to two diplomats familiar with the matter.

The senior diplomatic official sought to downplay the issue, and said that the actual content of the discussion between UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy and Israeli Ambassador Amir Hayek differed significantly from the subsequent Emirati readout.

Regardless, Israel passed along its dissatisfaction with the Emirati response. “I don’t see what happened as damaging our relations,” the diplomatic official said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) sits down with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the latter’s Abu Dhabi palace, on December 13, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

As for Russia, the top diplomat claimed Moscow is staking out a position criticizing Israel for the recent unrest in Jerusalem as a way to retaliate for the latter’s stance in favor of Ukraine.

“Russia is not happy about our position on Ukraine so it is coming out against us on the Palestinian front,” the official told reporters.

He then clarified that the Russian stance on the Palestinians is actually consistent with Moscow’s principles over the years, while noting that the Kremlin’s readout from President Vladimir Putin’s call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week did not include a condemnation of Israeli actions on the Temple Mount as Ramallah had hoped and expected.

“We didn’t think the Russians would be satisfied with our position on Ukraine. We’re also not satisfied with their attack on a sovereign nation,” the official said, adding that Israel will continue its policy on Ukraine that seeks to balance the need to align with the Western world with security interests in Syria, where Israel has long enjoyed a green light from Moscow to attack Iranian proxies from Russia-controlled airspace.

Turning to the status of the nuclear talks in Vienna, the top Israeli diplomat revealed that Biden administration officials have notified their European counterparts that Washington does not plan on delisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as part of the negotiations

The official said that the nuclear talks are currently at a standstill, largely due to the Iranian demand that Washington remove the IRGC from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Israel has lobbied publicly and privately against the move.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during their meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Bethlehem, January 23, 2020. (Alexander Nemenov, Pool via AP)

Despite the message the US has passed along to European negotiators, the Biden administration is still considering delisting part of the IRGC while keeping its elite Quds force on the FTO list, the Israeli official claimed. “We’re part of this conversation, but there isn’t a final answer yet.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price did indeed appear to reject the Iranian demand when pressed on it during a Monday press briefing.

“If Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours that go beyond the JCPOA,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said when asked about the Revolutionary Guards’ delisting. “They will need to negotiate those issues in good faith with reciprocity.”

As Iran has not expressed a willingness to budge on non-nuclear-related issues, Price’s remarks appeared to put to bed the possibility of a unilateral delisting by Washington, even if Tehran was making it a condition for returning to compliance with the JCPOA.

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