Israel's Netanyahu, King Abdullah meet in Jordan on Temple Mount tensions

Israel and Jordan have been experiencing tensions over Temple Mount following National Security Minister Ben-Gvir's visit to the site.

 THEN-PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II before their meeting at the Royal Palace in Amman, in 2014 (photo credit: JORDANIAN ROYAL PALACE/REUTERS)
THEN-PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II before their meeting at the Royal Palace in Amman, in 2014
(photo credit: JORDANIAN ROYAL PALACE/REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Tuesday amid tensions between the two countries over the Temple Mount, in a surprise visit that was publicized only after its conclusion.

“The two leaders discussed regional issues, especially strategic, security and economic cooperation between Israel and Jordan, which contributes to regional stability,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

“They also praised the long-standing friendship and partnership between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom,” the PMO continued.

It’s the first visit Netanyahu has made abroad since he returned to office last month.

During his last tenure as prime minister, relations had cooled between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom.

The last government had worked to restore those ties, with former prime minister Yair Lapid meeting twice with the monarch during his six months at Israel’s helm. His predecessor Naftali Bennett also met with Abdullah, as did President Isaac Herzog last November.

Tensions flare over Temple Mount

Netanyahu, who had been in office prior to this government from 2009-2021, last met with the Jordanian king in 2018. On the trip to Amman, he was joined by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar.

This visit comes as emotions have flared over issues relating to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif. The first incident was sparked when National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited al-Aqsa Mosque compound. This was followed by an incident in which Jordanian Ambassador Ghassan Majali was briefly stopped by police officers to check paperwork, prior to his entry to the Mount. The envoy left without entering the site but returned later to pray.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, last year. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, last year. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Israel’s Ambassador to Jordan Eitan Surkis was summoned after both incidents.

Of concern to both leaders is the potential for an increase in West Bank violence, particularly in light of the upcoming monthlong holiday of Ramadan which begins in March and overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Passover in April. Jordan has a large Palestinian population and violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem has the potential to destabilize the Hashemite kingdom.

According to the Royal Hashemite Court, King Abdullah stressed the need to respect the historical and legal status quo at al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Jordan has a special custodial relationship with the site, which is the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Under a status quo arrangement, the site is open to all visitors but only Muslims can pray there.

Netanyahu has repeatedly affirmed his support for the status quo and did so during the visit – but many members of his government, including Ben-Gvir, believe that Jews should also be allowed to worship there.

Abdullah also spoke with Netanyahu about his concern over Israeli actions that may harm the potential for the resumption of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The last peace talks broke down in 2014 and have not resumed since.

The Royal Court said that the king “stressed the need to maintain calm and cease all acts of violence” so that the “political horizon for the peace process” could be maintained.

He called “for an end to any measures that could undermine peace prospects.”

The king also reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the pre-1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The two men also spoke about the bilateral ties between their countries “and the need for the Palestinian people to benefit from economic and regional projects,” the Royal Court said. 

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the Biden administration welcomed the meeting of the two men. The US “stands firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. We have affirmed the Hashemite Kingdom’s special role as custodians of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem,” Price said.