Charged atmosphere in Jordan leads to Israeli concessions

The Jordanian stance towards al-Aksa was vehement even before the metal detectors.

THE TEMPLE MOUNT in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The shooting deaths of two Jordanians at the hands of an Israeli security guard who was stabbed with a screwdriver at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman was not being linked Monday by Jordan’s media or officialdom to the crisis around the installation of metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount.
But the incident occurred against the background of highly inflamed anti-Israel passions in Jordan because of the metal detectors and the perception that they are an infringement against al-Aksa, the third-holiest site in Islam.
For this reason, King Abdullah was unlikely to let the security guard go without receiving in return a tangible Israeli concession.
He would not release the guard gratis, “because of public opinion in Jordan, public opinion in other Arab countries and the furor created by the entire al-Aksa affair,” said Gabriel Ben-Dor, a Middle East specialist at Haifa University, hours before the guard and the other Israeli Embassy staff were returned to Israel. “He might be able to do it under normal circumstances when everything is peaceful and quiet, but given the violent and vehement atmosphere all over, I don’t think he’ll be able to do that.”
Last Friday, an estimated 8,000 people demonstrated in Amman in solidarity with the Palestinian fight against the metal detectors, installed after a deadly attack by three Israeli Arab gunmen. That is a large number for a Jordanian protest.
Demonstrations also took place in the southern town of Karak and in Zarqa, east of Amman.
Another indication of how charged the atmosphere in Jordan is comes from reading its most conservative, establishment, close-to-the-palace newspaper, Ad-Dustour. An opinion piece Monday by columnist Aida Najjar said: “Israel today practices new colonialism and occupation and makes efforts to Judaize Jerusalem based on false claims and fairy tales. It constitutes the gravest danger to al-Aksa Mosque. It has planned to take it over and destroy it and build the claimed temple on its ruins. Its plans and dreams continue – it is attempting to empty the city of its [Arab] inhabitants and it settles the settlers in their place.”
In Alrai newspaper, a recent caricature showed a massive Israeli army helmet that partly covered the Dome of the Rock.
Abdullah has aligned with the Palestinian Authority in complete rejection of the metal detectors not only because he knows his citizenry, a majority of which is Palestinian, but also because his very legitimacy is linked to being custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, a standing accorded to Jordan under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
He cannot be inactive when al-Aksa is seen as threatened.
Even before the metal detectors were installed, Jordanian discourse on al-Aksa was vehement. Despite Abdullah’s condemnation of the attack by the three gunmen from Umm el-Fahm, the Jordanian parliament applauded it.
Parliamentary speaker Atef Tarawneh was quoted by Ynet as saying: “May God have mercy on our martyrs who watered our pure soil. The damage by the Israeli occupation in the holiest sites of Jerusalem and in al-Aksa is grounds for continuing the resistance, not to surrender in the face of oppression or tyranny.”
Writing in Ad-Dustour Monday, another columnist, Ezzat Jeradat, highlighted the perceived Israeli threat to Arabs in Jerusalem and took issue with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein for condemning the Jordanian parliament’s stance.
“He forgot that the occupation authorities ignore the peace agreement which makes the Jerusalem religious holy sites a Jordanian responsibility and forgets the tens of legislative bills that go against the peace agreement in text and spirit,” he wrote.
Jordanian government sources quoted in Alrai said that Jordan will take “appropriate diplomatic measures” in the event that Israel refuses to hand over the security guard for investigation.
Jordanian Attorney-General Ashraf Abdullah has opened an investigation into the deaths and ordered autopsies of the corpses, Alrai reported.
The episode has echoes of the 1997 capture of two Mossad agents after they injected a fatal substance into Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Amman. Amid a severe crisis over what Jordanians experienced as a blatant breach of their sovereignty, King Hussein demanded that Israel turn over the antidote so that Mashaal’s life could be saved. Netanyahu, who was also prime minister then, agreed, and after the agents were released, implemented the major concession of freeing from a life sentence the imprisoned founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Abdullah, who relies on cooperation with Israel in security and other fields, has reason to avoid a protracted crisis. Yet it is likely that this time, too, Israel will have to pay a price.
Ben-Dor believes that one possibility is that Jordan would release the guard in exchange for an Israeli concession on the metal detectors.
“The government has been looking to give that up anyway,” he says. “It’s a tactical measure not worth the political price, so they are looking for an excuse to concede the point without seeming to give in to pressure. It seems possible a deal might be cooking along those lines.”