March 16, 2021
Jordan’s King Abdullah with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their meeting at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jan. 16, 2014. (Reuters)
Last week’s showdown between Jordan and Israel over the obstruction of a previously agreed visit by Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah to Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem to mark a Muslim holy occasion, and Amman’s retaliation by scuttling a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a regional country, has taken ties between the two countries to the brink.
Israel claimed that the cancelation of Hussein’s visit was due to disagreements over security issues related to protecting the heir to the Jordanian throne. But Jordan immediately responded, through Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi, by pointing the finger at Israel for violating arrival protocols at Al-Haram Al-Sharif and trying to impose complications to hinder Jerusalemites’ entry to the mosque. In retaliation, the Jordanian authorities delayed giving clearance to Netanyahu to come to Amman and board a private jet to take him to a regional country. When the clearance was finally given, it was too late and Netanyahu had to cancel his trip.
Tensions between Amman and Tel Aviv, particularly over Al-Haram Al-Sharif, have been brewing for years, but these latest incidents represent a new low in ties between the two countries, which share a decades-old peace treaty. Netanyahu has reneged on agreements and understandings with King Abdullah many times and the Jordanian monarch has refused to meet with or receive calls from the Israeli premier for years. But this time the level of Jordanian anger has reached a new high.
The visit would have been the first by a Jordanian royal to East Jerusalem since the two countries signed their peace treaty in 1994. Jordan wanted to underline its right, under the peace treaty, to have full access as custodian to Muslim holy places in East Jerusalem. This was exactly why Netanyahu, on the eve of a fourth Knesset election in the last two years and in which his political future is at stake, wanted to abort the visit. It had nothing to do with disagreements over security — it was a political stunt aimed at appeasing far-right Jewish voters.
Jordan was angry, as Al-Safadi put it, after Netanyahu reneged on an agreement and disrupted a religious visit by creating conditions that made it impossible, and then expected to come to Jordan and fly out of the country.
The Jordanian reaction was meant to send a clear message to Netanyahu and his camp of extremist followers that Jordan’s custodianship of Al-Haram Al-Sharif is a red line and will not be challenged. The Israeli stunt not only violated the 1994 peace treaty, but also a 2014 agreement brokered by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry between Jordan and Israel to “reaffirm commitment to the status quo at Al-Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound.” That agreement again recognized Jordan’s custodianship of the compound.
Over the past decade, there have been many provocations by the Netanyahu government relating to Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
That custodianship is also recognized by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and reaffirmed time and again by the Arab League, Muslim countries and the international community. But Israel, especially under Netanyahu, has violated such agreements and understandings many times in the past decade. It has allowed Israeli officials and Jewish extremists to enter the compound and perform prayers. Some of the groups allowed to enter include ones that have vowed to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to build a Jewish temple in its place. Over the past decade, there have been many provocations by the Netanyahu government relating to Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Every time they have happened, Jordan has protested.
Over the years, Netanyahu has ignored these protests and, in the words of his political rivals and Israel’s top security officials, has severely damaged ties with Jordan, which they consider to be a strategic partner. The incidents include the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli diplomat at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman in 2017, which deepened King Abdullah’s distrust of Netanyahu, who had promised him he would put the diplomat on trial in Israel.
Netanyahu looks out only for his own interests. While his political fate remains unknown, his departure from the stage would be a positive thing for the region as a whole.
Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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