Vol. 3, No. 31 August 5, 2004
Israel has ended the Palestinian Authority’s penetration of eastern Jerusalem and its control of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount, restoring Jordanian religious administration of the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound.
The expulsion of the PA from Jerusalem is the culmination of years of activity by Israeli security forces, which intensified in 2002 with arrests and expulsions of Palestinian security agents in Jerusalem’s Old City, freeing Arab residents from years of murder, kidnapping, and extortion.
Israel has shown great sensitivity to Hashemite lineage – King Abdullah II is believed to be a 43rd generation direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, and Jordan’s special religious role in Jerusalem was reflected in the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in October 1994.
Jordan’s and Egypt’s very public participation in repairs of the Temple Mount compound sends a clear message that Arafat is not acceptable to the Arab world as the custodian of Islam’s third holiest shrine.
The return of Jordan’s traditionally moderating influence suggests the possibilities that a stronger Jordanian-Palestinian link could offer in the management of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For example, Jordan could become a more acceptable conduit for international aid because Palestinian institutions do not meet the standards of accountability and transparency that donors now demand.
West Bank Palestinians may have to decide in the near future whether they prefer a political association with a post-disengagement Gazan leadership, which West Bankers have traditionally viewed as their inferiors, or a connection of even the most minimal sort with Jordan instead.
Israel has ended the Palestinian Authority’s penetration of eastern Jerusalem and its control of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount, restoring Jordanian religious administration of the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound.1 Israel’s reversal of Arafat’s ten-year reign of terror against Jerusalem’s Arab residents and his authoritarian dictates to the Muslim Waqf – that had turned Jerusalem into the religious and national epicenter of the Palestinian struggle against the Jewish state – has important political ramifications for both Palestinians and Israelis. Despite only a partial restoration of the status quo in Jerusalem, the return of Jordan’s traditionally moderating influence over the Muslim Waqf administration sends an important message to those on both sides of the Jordan River and suggests the possibilities that a stronger Jordanian-Palestinian link could offer in the management of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Renewed Stability on the Temple Mount
The expulsion of the Palestinian Authority from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is the culmination of years of activity by Israeli security forces, which intensified in 2002 following two years of Palestinian violence, with arrests and expulsions of Palestinian security agents in Jerusalem’s Old City, freeing Arab residents from years of murder, kidnapping, and extortion. Other Palestinian agents quit Jerusalem and fled to the West Bank to avoid capture.
Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy made a number of secret visits to Amman where he met with top advisors to King Abdullah regarding the situation on the Temple Mount, after Arafat’s strategic use of violence had forced Jerusalem police to retake control of the plaza no fewer than 13 times between 2000 and 2002.2 The sides reportedly discussed the ongoing violence and incitement fanned by Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and Sheikh Raed Salah’s Northern Islamic Movement in Israel.3 The acute danger of collapse of the compound’s southern and eastern retaining walls were also discussed – the result of the removal by the PA-controlled Waqf administration of nearly 20,000 tons of rubble and Jewish antiquities from beneath the Temple Mount since 1996.4
On several occasions beginning in late 2002, and as recently as April 2004, delegations of Jordanian and Egyptian officials, including engineers and architects, arrived in Jerusalem to assess the damage and initiate repairs to the southern and eastern retaining walls. The Jordanians also used the opportunity to “review” relations with the Muslim Waqf, whose salaries Jordan had continued paying in large part for the past eight years, even though the Hashemites had lost administrative and religious control of the Waqf to Arafat in 1996. According to Israeli officials, the Jordanians were surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception they received from the hundreds of local Waqf employees.5
Amman has taken a leading role in the restoration of the compound’s southern wall, and collected at least $4 million from Morocco and other Arab states for repairs to the Golden Dome and the Al Aksa mosque. Jordan invited Egyptian engineers to spearhead repairs to the “bulging” eastern wall. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has “blessed” the Jordanian and Egyptian repairs, while the Israel Police under the overall direction of the Prime Minister’s Office has brought an end to illegal Waqf digging and the major mosque construction both on and under the Temple Mount.6 However, Israel Antiquities Authority officials and leading archeologists continue to warn that full Israeli supervision of Arab restorations and construction must be restored to avoid the potential collapse of parts of the ancient compound, which falls under Israel’s sovereignty and international legal responsibility.7
The Palestinian media have used the pretext of “Israeli aggression” against the “Noble Sanctuary” to explain the need for Jordanian-Egyptian intervention on the Temple Mount, thus effectively preventing violence by Palestinian groups in the wake of the PA’s loss of administrative control of the Waqf. The Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily Al Quds explained that, “The (Jordanian) government contacted the necessary authorities to lead restoration of the Haram al-Sharif as a result of the damage to the holiness of the blessed Al Aksa mosque by the Israeli occupation army.”8
A Partial Return to the Status Quo
Since August 2003, when the Temple Mount compound was reopened to the public after being closed to non-Muslims for three years, more than 50,000 people, including thousands of Israelis, have visited without incident.9
However, there has still not been a full return to the status quo that existed before 1996. Visitors are prohibited from entering the Al Aqsa mosque and the Golden Dome, as well as the two new mosques beneath the Temple Mount. In addition, visiting hours are still limited.10 Moreover, construction of the two enormous underground mosques continues, with only limited inspections by Israeli authorities.11
Arab States Reject Arafat’s “Palestinization” of the Temple Mount
Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and other Arab states had come to share Israel’s concern about Arafat’s violent political exploitation of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, which the Palestinian leader claimed as a Palestinian national inheritance. Arafat has always seen control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount as the key to raising his status in the Arab world to that of a leader of mythical proportions, in the image of Saladin. “Egypt’s very public participation in repairs of the eastern wall sends a clear message to Yasser Arafat that he is not acceptable to the Arab world as the custodian of Islam’s third holiest shrine,” said one Israeli security source, who added: “Arab leaders also feared that Arafat’s exploitation of Al Aksa for his own ‘revolutionary’ designs was intended not only to destroy Israel but also to ignite the Arab and Islamic masses throughout the region to overthrow other dictatorships and monarchies.”
In light of the recent violence between warring factions of Arafat’s Fatah organization, some prominent Palestinians now also admit that Arafat exploited Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as flashpoints for violence and incitement following Sharon’s visit in 2000 in order to distract the Palestinians, the Arab world, and the international community from the brewing revolution in the Palestinian areas due to widespread corruption and brutality by Arafat and other PA leaders.12
Jerusalem as a Jordanian Insurance Policy
Jordan’s renewed interest in Jerusalem and the West Bank serves as an insurance policy for the kingdom in the face of growing intra-Palestinian unrest following Israel’s declaration of a planned withdrawal from Jewish settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank. Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher expressed Jordanian fears that Israel’s new security fence may become a permanent border that could force tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians to come to Jordan to look for employment.13 Former Jordanian Information Minister Salah al-Kulaab also noted recently that, “If the West Bank sneezes, the East Bank catches cold.”14
As one senior Jordanian diplomat explained, “Jordan’s new strategic conception that includes a role in Jerusalem and greater assistance to West Bankers is partly driven by the fact that the PA and its leader have failed the Palestinians.”15 King Abdullah himself suggested in the New York Times in February that, “Arafat needs to have a long look in the mirror to be able to see whether his position is helping the Palestinian cause or not.”16 Abdullah again lashed out at the Palestinian leadership on August 3, 2004, criticizing its handling of negotiations with Israel.17
Reversing Ten Years of PLO Penetration of East Jerusalem
The Israel Police have been battling the PA’s hostile takeover of the Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem since the Oslo II accords in September 1995. Arafat had moved quickly to exploit the Rabin government’s tendency to “look the other way” in the interest of advancing the peace process rather than to demand the enforcement of Oslo’s provisions as they related to Jerusalem, in the face of the PA’s direct violations. Under Oslo, Jerusalem, although an issue for future negotiations, was under Israel’s sole jurisdiction. Yet Palestinian offices that were part of the Palestinian Authority nonetheless began opening in Jerusalem in 1994. Salaries for workers in these offices were paid by Arafat.
While some security officials battled to keep the PA out of Israel’s capital, between 1995 and 2001 the PA obtained a foothold in Jerusalem through a campaign of assassinations, threats, and intimidation against local Arab political and business leaders.18 Nasser a-Din Nashashibi, a respected Jerusalem figure who served as an advisor to King Abdullah I, King Hussein, and King Abdullah II, said he still retains bodyguards to protect him from threats by PA Security Chief Jibril Rajoub or any other of his “gangsters.” Rajoub had reportedly attempted to force Nashashibi to hand over his historic home to the PA on a number of occasions since 1995.19
Following Oslo II, Arafat also moved quickly to assert control over the offices of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount. Arafat appointed Shiekh Ikrama Sabri as mufti of Jerusalem, who quickly overshadowed the Jordanian Waqf appointee, Adnan Husseini. Sabri delivered weekly vitriolic sermons against Israel and the United States, including a widely quoted prayer prior to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. for “Allah to paint the walls of the White House black.” A popular myth on the Palestinian street after 9/11 was that Sabri’s prayers were answered.20
Arafat also named Hassan Tahboub as PA Minister for Waqf Affairs. Tahboub, too, did not physically remove Husseini but effectively sidelined him. However, neither the Jordanians nor local Waqf officials had considered this an immediate threat because both the Palestinian Tahboub and Jordanian-backed Husseini were from well-known Jerusalem families.
However, Arafat loyalists in eastern Jerusalem immediately exploited Tahboub’s new appointment and ordered Husseini to set aside prime real estate on the Temple Mount as a burial plot for Arafat.21
In 1996, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began taking aggressive steps to roll back the PA’s illegal activity in Jerusalem and to fortify Israel’s sovereignty, making the closing of PA institutions in the city a precondition for the first Netanyahu-Arafat meeting. Dennis Ross has detailed how, as a result of an Abu Mazen-Dore Gold agreement, the PA actually closed two offices in Jerusalem even before the 1996 Hebron negotiations began.22 Israel also received a formal commitment from Arafat as part of the 1997 Hebron Agreement that PA offices in Jerusalem would be closed.23 However, it was the decision of then Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau in 2001 to close Orient House indefinitely that severely hampered the PA’s operational abilities in Jerusalem and led to the end of PA control over the Muslim Waqf.24
Reaffirmation of Jordanian Guardianship of Muslim Holy Sites
The restoration of Jordanian Waqf administration in Jerusalem also reaffirms Israel’s long-standing commitment to Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim shrines.25 Despite his severing of administrative ties to the West Bank in 1988, King Hussein did not concede Jordan’s special religious role in Jerusalem.
Israel has shown great sensitivity to Hashemite lineage – King Abdullah II is believed to be a 43rd generation direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed. Jordan’s special religious role in Jerusalem was reflected in the Washington Declaration of 1994 and the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in October 1994.26 The day after he signed the treaty, King Hussein addressed his own parliament, saying, “We will never relinquish our religious responsibilities toward the holy sites, under any circumstances.”27
Implications for a New Jordanian Relationship with the West Bank
Amman’s renewed administrative control of the Muslim Waqf and its increased interest in helping Palestinians on the West Bank will not result in Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank – known as the “Jordanian Option.” Jordan is sensitive to avoid dictating a solution to the local Palestinian leadership. King Abdullah is also deeply committed to his “Jordan first” socio-economic initiative that includes managing delicate relations with Jordan’s sizable Palestinian majority.
However, Israel’s declared intention to evacuate all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s deepening involvement with Gaza has perhaps created a new opportunity for greater cooperation between West Bankers and Jordan. West Bankers, exhausted from nearly four years of intifada and spiraling intra-Palestinian violence, are craving the return of the rule of law, economic stability, and diplomatic credibility with the West that a larger Jordanian role could provide.28
In the near future, West Bank Palestinians may have to decide between a political association with Jordan or with a post-disengagement Gazan leadership which West Bankers have traditionally viewed as their inferiors. Moreover, the fact that 74 percent of Americans oppose sending further economic assistance to the PA would suggest that a closer link between Jordan and the West Bank might serve the needs and interests of the international community and the peoples on both sides of the Jordan River.29 Jordan could also become a more acceptable conduit for international aid because Palestinian institutions do not meet the standards of accountability and transparency that donors now demand.
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1. According to a report on July 2, 2004, by Israel Television Channel One Jerusalem police reporter Uri Cohen Ahronov, Israel has removed Palestinian Authority control over the Temple Mount and has restored Jordanian administration. The restoration of Jordanian administration of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has also been confirmed by high-level Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian security and diplomatic sources.
2. Uri Cohen Ahronov, “Yoman,” Israel Television, July 2, 2004.
3. According to Jordanian diplomatic sources, July 18, 2004. For an overview of PLO and Islamic incitement on the Temple Mount, see Dan Diker, “Lessons from the Or Commission: Rethinking the Ideological and Religious Dimensions of the Israeli Arab Riots of 2000,” Jerusalem Viewpoints no. 512, February 1, 2004.
4. According to Dr. Eilat Mazar, Hebrew University archeologist and member for the non-partisan Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, in an interview, July 28, 2004.
5. Uri Cohen Ahronov, “Yoman,” Israel Television, July 2, 2004.
6. According to a senior Israeli source. The cessation of unrestrained earth removal by Waqf authorities was also confirmed by Dr. Shmuel Berkovitz, attorney and leading expert on the Temple Mount and other holy sites. Berkovitz is also a member of the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.
7. Etgar Lefkowitz, “Eastern Temple Wall in Danger of Collapse,” Jerusalem Post, May 19, 2004. According to Berkovitz, there is currently no professional civil supervision by Israeli authorities of Temple Mount repairs or activities. This was also admitted by Israel Antiquities Authority Director Shuki Dorfman at a meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee, May 18, 2004. Berkovitz added that his formal written petition to Jerusalem city officials submitted in November 2003, requesting city supervision over Waqf archeological activity, still remains unanswered.
8. “Jordanian team arrives together with friendly sister countries to stop the Israeli damage to the Holiness of the Noble Sanctuary,” Al Quds, April 14, 2004 (Hebrew translation).
9. Uri Cohen Ahronov, “Yoman,” Israel Television, July 2, 2004.
10. According to Hebrew University archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, phone interview, July 23, 2004.
11. Mazar, July 25, 2004.
12. Dan Diker, “Gaza Street Wars,” Makor Rishon, July 2, 2004 (Hebrew).
13. Danny Rubenstein and Yoav Stern, “Jordanian FM Calls Fence a Grave National Security Threat,” Ha’aretz, July 30, 2004.
14. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, June 16, 2004. Kulaab also said that Jordan is interested in helping maintain quiet on the West Bank because disturbances there could easily spill over to Jordan.
15. Meeting with Jordanian diplomatic sources, July 20, 2004.
16. New York Times, May 17, 2004.
17. Interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah on the Al-Arabiyya satellite channel, August 3, 2004, Jordan News Agency; http://www.petra.gov.jo/nepras/2004/Aug/03/20710900.htm.
18. According to Palestinian sources close to the PA, July 13, 2004.
19. Interview with Nasser a-Din Nashashibi, July 10, 2004.
20. According to Jerusalem Post Palestinian affairs analyst Khaled Abu Toameh, in an interview, July 29, 2004.
21. Khaled Abu Toameh, July 13, 2004.
22. Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).
23. http://www.shalomjerusalem.com/jerusalem/jerusalem16.htm. Former Netanyahu political advisor and former UN Ambassador Dr. Dore Gold negotiated the “Note for the Record,” signed on January 15, 1997, that was formally attached to the 1997 Hebron Accords.
24. According to former Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau in an interview, July 27, 2004.
25. Former Minister of Internal Security Uzi Landau underscored the importance of the recent restoration of Jordanian religious control over the Muslim Waqf and its reflection of Israel’s commitment to the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in an interview with Israel Television Channel One English News, July 17, 2004.
26. See Treaty of Peace between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, October 26, 1994. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process: “in accordance with the Washington Declaration, Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.”
27. Jerusalem Post, October 23, 1994, as excerpted from Dr. Dore Gold, Jerusalem in International Diplomacy (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2001), p. 37.
28. Daoud Kuttab, “Time for Palestinians to Take the Initiative,” Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2004.
29. Melissa Radler, “Poll: 74.1% of Americans Opposed PA Aid Package,” Jerusalem Post, July 22, 2004.
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Dan Diker is a Knesset affairs reporter and political analyst for Israel Broadcasting Authority’s English News. He is also a media affairs analyst at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs.