Is Jordan forgetting peace treaty obligations? - analysis

In the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, it was agreed in Article 9 to, “...provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance.”

 JORDANIAN PRIME MINISTER Bisher al-Khasawneh speaks during a visit to Lebanon last year. Although Jordan plays an important role in securing Israel’s long eastern border, that doesn’t mean he can erupt into a seditious salute to Palestinian rioters. (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)
JORDANIAN PRIME MINISTER Bisher al-Khasawneh speaks during a visit to Lebanon last year. Although Jordan plays an important role in securing Israel’s long eastern border, that doesn’t mean he can erupt into a seditious salute to Palestinian rioters.
(photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)

The Muslim Holy month of Ramadan witnessed a spate of public rioting and disturbances on the Temple Mount, specifically in the al-Aqsa mosque compound, orchestrated and organized following considerable incitement by the Hamas leadership in Gaza, as well as the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

This included acts of provocation and violence by Palestinian youths who entrenched themselves within the mosque and stockpiled boulders, metal bars and fireworks, all intended for use against Jews praying at the Western Wall and against Israeli police fulfilling the responsibility to ensure public order.

These disturbances have given rise to statements and actions by senior Jordanian personalities, expressing support and encouragement for the violence, as well as voicing threats against Israel and calls to change the present arrangements regarding the Temple Mount.

The emotive nature and sensitivity of anything connected with the Temple Mount in general and the Al Aqsa compound in particular, and the potential for massive incitement by those intent on instigating violence, have been a familiar and regular phenomenon for tens, if not hundreds of years. Commonly voiced buzzwords and mantras have consistently included such accusations as “Al-Aqsa is in danger.”

Such irresponsible and deliberately disseminated canards have, over the years, predictably led to violent riots and damage, as well as extensive casualties and fatalities.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during his visit to Amman on Wednesday. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during his visit to Amman on Wednesday. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

While Israel has, since 1967, exercised sovereignty and overall control of the area of the holy sites in Jerusalem, the day-to-day administration and organization of visiting and worshiping within the al-Aqsa Mosque compound has historically been and continues to be under the responsibility of Jordan’s Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places.

In the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, it was agreed in Article 9 to, “...provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance” and to “act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, tolerance and peace.”

Israel also undertook to “respect the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem,” and; therefore, Jordan has continued to administer the site, as it had done prior to 1967, and subject to Israeli security supervision and presence, is responsible, in coordination with Israel, for the religious and civil arrangements, including visits by Jews and non-Muslims.

Jordan’s signature and ratification of the 1994 Peace Treaty represented acceptance and acknowledgment by Jordan of Israel’s overall authority, including security responsibility over the Temple Mount compound, subject only to Israel’s recognition of the special role of Jordan, as set out in the 1967 Status Quo arrangement.

This arrangement was subsequently reaffirmed following similar disturbances on Temple Mount in 2015 in an understanding between then US secretary of state John Kerry and the Israeli and Jordanian governments, as well as in a September 2015 UN Security Council statement.

Despite this prevailing legal situation, recent reports of a Jordanian initiative, transmitted to the US Administration, to remove Israel’s control over the Temple Mount, and to transfer security and other responsibilities from Israel to the Wakf, would appear to be at stark variance with Jordan’s Peace Treaty obligations.

Similarly, statements by senior Jordanian personalities expressing support and encouragement for the Al Aqsa rioters, would appear to be no less incompatible with Jordan’s obligations. Jordanian King Abdullah’s bitter criticism of Israel’s attempts to quell the rioting and violence emanating from the mosque would appear to go beyond Jordan’s Peace Treaty commitments, as well as its obligations to mutual understanding and good neighborly relations.

Jordan’s Prime Minister al-Khasawneh used particularly offensive language in condemning Zionist sympathizers and Israel’s occupation government, hailing the Palestinian rioters and accusing Israel of violating the status quo: “I salute every Palestinian and all the employees of the Jordanian Islamic Wakf, who proudly stand like minarets, hurling their stones in a volley of clay at the Zionist sympathizers defiling the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli occupation government.”

Such a parliamentary statement by Jordan’s prime minister is clearly incompatible with Jordan’s solemn commitment in the Peace Treaty’s Article 11 to “seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance based on shared historic values” and “to abstain from hostile or discriminatory propaganda against each other, and to take all possible legal and administrative measures to prevent the dissemination of such propaganda by any organization or individual present in the territory of either Party.”

The 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty signified a solid and stable example of bon-voisinage (neighborliness) between the two countries, which has, for almost thirty years, been maintained and enhanced.

While both have been fully aware of the emotive and sensitive nature of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem and their historic religious significance from the start, they have made every effort to prevent and to avoid tensions, and to ensure that the Holy Sites are managed for the benefit of all visitors and worshippers.

It is to be hoped that Jordan will ensure its continued respect for the agreed commitments in the Peace Treaty and will refrain from actions and statements that undermine such commitments.

The writer, a former ambassador of Israel to Canada, served as the legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry and participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. He presently directs the international law program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.