Tensions growing between Israel, Jordan over al-Aqsa restoration work

The relationship between the two countries is at its lowest point since they signed a peace agreement 26 years ago, according to observers

WORSHIPERS ATTEND a prayer service at al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 31. (photo credit: SLIMAN KHADER/FLASH90)
WORSHIPERS ATTEND a prayer service at al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 31.
(photo credit: SLIMAN KHADER/FLASH90)
An angry "protest note" from Jordan has demanded that Israel stop hindering restoration work at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.
Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah Alfayez said the note sent on Monday urged Israel to "refrain from such violations and provocations, and respect the mandate of Jordan in administering Muslim holy sites."
Israeli officials did not respond to requests from The Media Line for comment.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem, an arrangement agreed upon in the 1994 peace deal between the two countries. Under the agreement, Israel recognizes Jordan's guardianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in east Jerusalem, which was captured and annexed by Israel in 1967.
Wakf, the Islamic endowments authority run by Jordan, this week accused the Israel Police of preventing its employees from conducting restoration work on the Dome of the Rock shrine.
Jordan insists that the Wakf is "the sole authority responsible for the supervision and maintenance of al-Aqsa."
Jawad Anani, a former deputy prime minister and former foreign minister of Jordan, told The Media Line from Amman that Jordan's role in east Jerusalem is a redline for the king.
"The Jerusalem issue for His Majesty the King is very important. Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem are under Hashemite guardianship," he said.
Anani, who also served as chief of the Royal Court, and coordinator of Jordan’s peace negotiating team with Israel, says that Israeli domestic politics is a factor in the rising tension.
"We see this as a challenge for Jordan and His Majesty. The reason is that the current Israeli administration is seeking to gain votes, because (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is in a difficult and critical situation. He tries to appease the extremists and religious people in Israel," he said.
Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, concedes that the relationship between the two countries is at its lowest point.
"I think the relations are not frozen, but I would say quite cold," he said.
Eran, who was Israel's top diplomat in Amman from 1997 to 2000, says that despite their problems, the two countries cooperate on some issues, including intelligence and security.
"There are contacts between the two ministries of foreign affairs, the ministers met twice in recent months, and they discussed cooperation on many issues," he said.
But Abdullah and Netanyahu have not spoken to each other for some time, he added, which says a lot about the state of relations between the two countries.
He compares this to the “warmth” of the relationship between the late Jordanian King Hussein and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Anani said that there is “no chemistry” between the current king and prime minister.
"The relationship has gone nowhere since Netanyahu took office. Full of challenges, there is a long list of actions that Netanyahu took that indicate his animosity," he said.
Unpopular among the majority of Jordanians, the 26-year-old peace treaty has withstood the test of time, in spite of increased tensions between Israel and Jordan in the last few years.
The rising animosity between Jordan and Israel comes at a time when Israel is normalizing relations with four Arab states.
"Jordan found itself alone in standing firmly behind the Palestinian cause, while other Arab countries are normalizing relations with Israel," Eran said.
He added that these breakthrough accords should help Jordan, too.
"The addition of Arab states to the circle of normalization with Israel opens up the possibility of regional economic cooperation for which Jordan can certainly benefit in many sectors," he said.
Eran says good relations with Jordan should be a top priority for Israel.
"It is a very sad comment on the current state of affairs and one can only hope that a resumption of a political process as soon as possible between Israel and the Palestinians will also bring greater cooperation between Israel and Jordan," he said.
When Trump rolled out his vision for peace in the Middle East last January, he did it with little to no consultation with Abdullah. Making matters worse, there was the US position approving of Israeli plans to annex the West Bank portion of the Jordan Valley, which Amman strongly rejects, calling it a threat to its national security.
Under the Trump Administration, Jordan’s role in the region was marginalized. Trump bypassed the strategic relationship that the US had with the kingdom for decades, in favor of Gulf states.
"No one can exclude or circumvent Jordan’s role in Jerusalem. There is no contesting of the Hashemite custody of the Holy Places," Anani said.