After ongoing Palestinian violence on the Temple Mount led to negotiations between the Israeli and Jordanian governments, a flurry of contradictory statements from Israeli officials and the Waqf made the situation even worse. At the same time, the King of Jordan has remained enigmatically silent while meeting with President Biden.
Bennett: “Israeli sovereignty has been maintained”
On Sunday, Public Security Minister Bar-Lev and the police announced that the number of Waqf guards at the site will be increased by 50. In return, Barlev reportedly demanded that Waqf employees who support Hamas be removed from the compound.
This seems to contradict a statement made by the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday:
“There is no change of new development in the situation on the Temple Mount. Israeli sovereignty has been maintained,” the PMO stated. “All decisions about the Temple Mount will be made taking into consideration sovereignty, freedom of religion and security, and not through pressure from foreign or political factors.”
“Six Hamas-backed Waqf guards were removed from the Temple Mount, and 12 new Waqf positions were manned, “all within the existing standards, without any increase,” the Prime Minister’s Office added, explaining that “this is an event that took place about a month and a half ago. A Jordanian request was received to increase the Waqf presence on the Temple Mount by 50 guards but Israel did not find it appropriate to accede to the request.”
Events concerning the Temple Mount threaten the coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Islamic Ra’am party chairman Mansour Abbas, a member of the government coalition, announced that his support for the government was conditioned on Bennett accepting Jordan’s demands regarding the Temple Mount.
Waqf: “Al-Aqsa exclusive to Muslims; cannot be shared”
The Waqf also weighed in, contradicting the Prime Minister’s office as well as Bar Lev.
“… the sole responsibility and authority for the appointment of guards and employees is reserved for the Waqf, which is in Jerusalem without any involvement of any factor, including the Israeli occupation government,” the Waqf wrote on Facebook. “Since 2016, our office has appointed more than 70 new guards, but the conduct of the Israel Police in the field is an obstacle for the employees to join their work.”
The Waqf claimed it was “the only entity that sponsors the Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is a place exclusive to Muslims and cannot be shared with anyone else.”
Andalou News reported that the Waqf statement was confirmed by “the Jordanian Ministry of Endowments, through a source, who described him as ‘the official’, without mentioning his name.” The statement said, “the responsibility and authority to appoint guards and employees belong to the ministry, in coordination with the Islamic Endowments Department in Al-Quds Al-Sharif,” adding, “ this responsibility “does not accept participation or dictation from any party, including the Israeli occupation government.”
Waqf guards receive their salaries from the Jordanian government and currently number more than 250.
King Abdullah II of Jordan is currently in the US to enlist the help of President Joe Biden to put pressure on Israel to agree to Jordan’s demands on the Temple Mount compound. Jordan has blamed Israel for the violence and for violating the status quo there despite Jews being prohibited from the site during the last eleven days of Ramadan. The Israeli police also vacated the compound, only returning when Palestinian violence threatened the surrounding areas.
Israel Hayom reported that Jordan submitted a letter to the Biden administration, demanding that the Waqf be given total control over the Temple Mount. They would institute a dress code for non-Muslims and limit visitors to groups no larger than five people. Non-Muslims wishing to visit the site would need to apply in writing in advance and, if approved, would be restricted to tour routes of no more than 500 feet. Jordan is also demanding that the Israel Police no longer be allowed on the Temple Mount, even if rioters attack Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall or visitors to the site itself.
During that time, Hamas banners and flags were prominently displayed. Last week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accused Hamas last week of orchestrating the riots.
Temple Mount and the Abraham Accords
The status of the Temple Mount and Jordan’s intervention also threatens to disturb the Abraham Accords. Moshe Albo, a senior researcher in the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Reichman University in Herzliya (formerly the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya), told JNS that Jordan sees the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco as contenders for custodianship over the Temple Mount.
On Friday, Israeli journalist Yoni Ben-Menachem tweeted that there is a “disagreement between the UAE and Jordan over the Temple Mount.”
He wrote that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed, “demands that the status quo on the Temple Mount allow freedom of worship for members of all religions, as stipulated in the standardization agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. King Abdullah opposes that and claims this violates the existing status quo and the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel.”