On May 31, Jordan conveyed an official message to the Israeli government, complaining that Israel has authorized the entry of Jewish extremists into the Al Aqsa compound “under the protection of the Israeli police.” This comes in the context of a serious escalation in recent days in the tone of Jordan’s complaints towards Israel, signaling the Hashemite kingdom’s growing frustration in regard to the handling of Jewish visits to the compound. The number of such visits has sharply increased in recent months, with peaks associated with Passover and the 50th anniversary of the “reunification” of Jerusalem. This escalation comes in the context, too, of calls by some Israeli officials for Jews to visit massively the Temple Mount (see also here).
It should be recalled that under the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, “Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.” That special role is one of custodianship/guardianship over these shrines, including the Al Aqsa compound (managed by the Islamic Waqf, which is funded by Jordan).
The letter from Jordan also comes only a few days after the head of the Waqf at the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif reached out to Haaretz to make public his proposal to Israeli authorities to return to the status quo that prevailed before 2000. For a detailed overview of the arrangements that prevailed before 2000, see our comprehensive memo on the Temple Mount status quo here. The key aspects of the pre-2000 status quo, compared to today’s, are:
- The Waqf, in full coordination with Israeli authorities, could impose restrictions on the size of non-Muslim groups and the rate of their entry to the compound;
- The Waqf could veto specific visitors entering the site;
- The Waqf collected a fee for the entry of non-Muslims to the site;
- Non-Muslim visitors could enter the Dome of the Rock (since 2000, no non-Muslims may do so).
While the tone of the Waqf’s proposal to Israel is very different than the anger expressed in the letter from Jordanian authorities, the underlying message is the same: both communicate deep dissatisfaction with current arrangements and a readiness to work with Israeli authorities to improve security and stability at the site. Unfortunately, Netanyahu has shown little willingness to engage in potentially stabilizing steps that would require him to expend domestic political capital with his political base in the increasingly powerful Temple Mount movement. Rather, in recent years he has generally only taken such steps under duress or when the situation is on the brink of a potential conflagration.
Consequently, it is likely Netanyahu will rebuff Jordan. It is likely, too, that he will reject, or even ignore, the Waqf’s proposal, as it involves reverting to a status quo in which Israel shares authority with the Waqf -- even if this rejections comes at the cost of security and stability in Jerusalem. Only in extremis will Netanyahu heed the Jordanians and the requirements of maintaining stability in Jerusalem more than he listens to Temple Mount extremists in his coalition and Cabinet (like MK Yehuda Glick) and among his supporters in the Temple Mount movement.