King Abdullah and Abbas forge front against al-Aksa ‘challenges’

Israel denies it is trying to infringe on al-Aksa or change the status quo at holy sites.

JORDAN’S KING Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
JORDAN’S KING Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed Monday to intensify coordination against possible future Israeli “challenges” to al-Aksa Mosque, said PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
Maliki, at the close of the king’s first visit to Ramallah in five years, said a joint working group was being formed to focus on issues related to protecting the mosque, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
The two sides also discussed the need to advance stalled Middle East peace efforts, according to Jordan’s official Petra news agency.
Speaking after Abdullah and Abbas held one-on-one talks and then another round with their foreign ministers and other top advisers, Maliki indicated that the PA and Jordan are preparing for more trouble with Israel in Jerusalem following last month’s crisis over the Temple Mount.
“This visit comes at a very important time to do a joint assessment on the problem of Israeli attacks against al-Aksa in Jerusalem and attempts to change the status quo at al-Aksa,” Maliki said.
Israel denies it is trying to infringe on al-Aksa or change the status quo at holy sites.
Jordan, which is custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem according to its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, had been in discussions with the United States and Israel to help resolve the crisis over Israel’s installation of metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount compound.
The detectors had been installed after a July 14 shooting attack at the site by three Israeli Arabs killed two policemen.
Israel said the purpose of the detectors was to prevent further attacks, but the Palestinians viewed them as a step toward taking over the mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Under diplomatic pressure and faced with Palestinian protests, Israel ended a twoweek standoff by withdrawing the detectors and all other newly installed equipment from the entrances to the Temple Mount compound.
This was seen as a Palestinian victory buttressed by Jordanian support.
Maliki told reporters that the Jordanian and Palestinian officials who met on Monday “evaluated” the episode and made “preparations for the coming stage that we expect from Israel and from the person of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The Palestinian foreign minister added that the two sides “agreed on the creation of a joint crisis cell which will keep following this issue to evaluate the past period and its lessons and evaluate the challenges we might face at al-Aksa in the future.”
Petra reported that talks focused on “the need for preserving the historic and legal status quo in noble Jerusalem and to not hurt it because there will be negative consequences for the entire region.”
The installation of the metal detectors had touched off protests throughout the Muslim world from Khartoum to Kuala Lumpur.
Abdullah hopes his visit to Ramallah and show of support for the Palestinians will give him a boost at home where many Jordanians disagreed with his decision to allow an Israeli Embassy guard who fatally shot two Jordanians last month to return to Israel.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the guard, Ziv Moyal, acted in self-defense after being stabbed with a screwdriver.
There was widespread revulsion in Jordan when Netanyahu hugged Moyal upon his return and praised his handling of the incident, embarrassing Abdullah, who is demanding that Moyal be tried. Israeli authorities are investigating the shootings in which a bystander, Bashar al-Hamarneh, was killed.
“President Abbas praised the role of Jordan and the king in reopening the mosque and removing the recent crisis and said that Hashemite sponsorship over Islamic and Christian holy sites is very important to protect them,” Petra reported.
As for peace efforts, Abdullah praised US President Donald Trump as being “committed to work for peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” according to Petra. By contrast, Palestinians say Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-inlaw and the US peace coordinator, sides with Israel against them.
Last week, a speech Kushner gave to congressional interns was leaked to Wired, a US website. In it, he endorsed Israel’s view that the crisis over al-Aksa stemmed from Palestinian incitement and mused that there may be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The speech alarmed Palestinians, and PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said Kushner had “disqualified himself” from being a US peace envoy.
But not Abdullah. Petra reported that the king “confirmed the importance of working with the US administration to move the peace process and relaunch serious and efficient negotiations based on the two-state solution. His Majesty said that what is desired is to intensify efforts to make progress during the coming period.”
The king flew to Ramallah by military helicopter in coordination with Israel and was greeted by Abbas at his Mukata presidential compound where the two men reviewed an honor guard.
Ghassan Khatib, a former PA minister who is vice president of Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, said the summit drew on the sense that Jordan and the Palestinians had complemented each other during the recent crisis over al-Aksa.
“The feeling among both Palestinians and Jordanians that Israel won’t stop here and will continue its attempts to make changes in these holy sites is creating a feeling of urgency and need to coordinate on a higher level,” he said.
He added that Abbas also seeks to coordinate with Amman on the peace process because Jordan has the best relations of any Arab country with the Trump administration.
Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (now the Institute for National Security Studies), said the king’s visit to Ramallah might have been intended “to demonstrate to Israel that ‘you are up against a united front of the Hashemite Kingdom and the Palestinian Authority and we are waiting for answers.’ These answers from Jordan’s standpoint are on the issue of the security guard and from both their standpoints are on the need to get assurances from Netanyahu that certain constraints will be respected in the future [at the Temple Mount]. It’s sending a message ‘we are the protectors of al-Aksa, we are united and we are putting you on notice.’”