Jordan's King Abdullah to visit Ramallah, aims to defuse tension

The visit comes amid concerns of violence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Eilat Mayor Eli Lankri hosted the governor of the greater Akaba region, Naif Ahmed Bakhit al Tib, and Deputy Tourism Minister Sherhabil Madi. Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Middle East and the Peace Process Oded Yosef and Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Eitan Sorkis and other officials. (photo credit: YOD PHOTOGRAPHERS)
Eilat Mayor Eli Lankri hosted the governor of the greater Akaba region, Naif Ahmed Bakhit al Tib, and Deputy Tourism Minister Sherhabil Madi. Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Middle East and the Peace Process Oded Yosef and Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Eitan Sorkis and other officials.
(photo credit: YOD PHOTOGRAPHERS)

Jordan’s King Abdullah plans to travel to Ramallah in the West Bank for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, amid increasing tensions in the West Bank, and east Jerusalem ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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The meeting reportedly set for later this month is King Abdullah’s first trip to Ramallah in five years and comes less than a year after increased friction in Jerusalem sparked an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

The war left some 256 Palestinians dead, including 128 civilians, according to the United Nations, and 13 people were killed in Israel.

Palestinian officials blame the tensions on continued visits by Jewish Israelis to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and they warn that the visits during Ramadan will be like “pouring oil on the fire.”

Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Abbas’ adviser for religious affairs and Islamic relations, warned earlier in the week against “Israeli attempts to implement plans to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan, and the consequences for the security and stability of the region and the world,” adding that “the occupation knows well that the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is the most sensitive in Palestinian geography, and therefore they deliberately create crises from time to time.”

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Jordanian King Abdullah II, March 10, 2022.  (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Jordanian King Abdullah II, March 10, 2022. (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)

Hillel Frisch, professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line that “timing is critical,” and Jordan’s position as the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem makes its involvement in dealing with the rise in tension even more important.

“Its importance is in brokering an understanding or agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has influence in east Jerusalem,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Jordan’s monarch two weeks ago to discuss the same issue.

“We decided that we must act together to quell tensions and promote understanding, mainly ahead of the month of Ramadan and the Passover holiday,” a statement from Lapid said.

US-based Palestinian affairs expert Hasan Awwad told The Media Line that Abdullah’s visit “comes in an attempt to calm the situation so that it does not explode during the month of Ramadan.”

He adds that a Jordanian attempt at the highest level to calm the situation is in motion so that things do not explode out of control, exposing Jordan and its king to criticism and internal pressures as well.

“Obviously there is a lot of movement going on between Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians. Something is being prepared and coordinated. Jordan appears to be involved in this matter as it has an interest in keeping the calm,” says Awwad.

Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev met with Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs head Hussein al-Sheikh on Tuesday, as both the Israeli and the PA work to curb tensions ahead of Ramadan.

Frisch also says that the fragile health of Abbas, who is 86 years old, is a shared concern of both Israel and Jordan as they try to maintain peace and stop any possible chaos in the West Bank that could result after his death.

“I think the most immediate thing is to keep calm during Ramadan, but that ties in also to the meeting that Hussein al-Sheikh held with the Israeli Public Security Minister,” Frisch said.

A PA official told The Media Line that Ramallah is “discouraged by what it is seeing from the Israeli side in the holy city,” but added that the PA will work to ease the tension.

The official also said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will take the opportunity to discuss with King Abdullah “new efforts to revive” the lines of communication between the PA on one side and the US and Israel on the other.

The PA leadership in Ramallah is furious over what it perceives to be a total US abandonment of promises Washington had made to the Palestinians.

In a meeting last week between US envoy Hady Amr and officials in Ramallah, Palestinians complained that the current US policy is “counterproductive” to Washington’s efforts to bring political and economic stability to the Palestinians.

Abbas is currently in Germany for his annual medical checkup, but he is expected to return to Ramallah in time for the meeting.