Last week’s announcement by Jordan that it would not install surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount was received in Israel with some surprise and disappointment. According to an earlier agreement, Jordan was to install 55 cameras around the Mount. However, on April 18, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that Jordan had decided to stop the project due to criticism voiced by the Palestinians. A team of Jordanian experts who were already in East Jerusalem for this purpose was recalled to Amman.
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Officially, Jordanian spokespersons claimed that these surveillance cameras were intended to document Israeli violations on the Mount. In fact, the agreement had another rationale.
The proposal was discussed by the two countries, including in direct talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah, as part of an effort to calm things down in the compound. Rising tensions there were among the main causes for the outbreak of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank last October. The idea of installing cameras was suggested to the Americans and Secretary of State John Kerry presented it to the public. The target date for operating these cameras was Passover, due to expectations that visits by Jews to the Mount would encounter Palestinian opposition, exacerbating tensions over the holiday season. A technical team from Jordan arrived in Jerusalem to prepare for the installation.
Israel had a dual interest in this plan: a hope that installing the cameras would lead to calm and an assumption that if they were installed inside the mosques, it would be possible to prove that Muslim “guards” around the compound were using the mosques to store stones and bottles, often initiating violent confrontations.
However, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and its rival Hamas (and Hamas’ Israeli ally, the Islamic Movement in Israel) vehemently opposed the plan, accusing Jordan of collaborating with Israel. This caused Jordan to pull back from it. Jordan’s prime minister explained that his country did not wish to be in conflict with the Palestinians over the Temple Mount. Jordan’s interior minister argued that Israel anyway has expensive cameras in place, as well as an observation balloon, allowing it to keep tabs on what takes place in the compound.
Israel’s defense establishment was under the impression that the Jordanian government did not foresee the severity of the Palestinians’ reaction. Israel was disappointed with Jordan’s reaction, in light of the tight security coordination between the two countries and their common interests in several areas, chiefly the regional campaign against ISIS. Last week, army deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan told foreign correspondents that Israel provides Egypt and Jordan with intelligence, which he called “the most important component” in the war against ISIS.
Golan described the security coordination with these two countries as “unprecedented,” with stable relations between them and Israel, despite the risks posed by ISIS-affiliated groups in the Sinai Peninsula and in Jordan. It’s possible that the internal unrest in the Hashemite kingdom, concerns about ISIS and the growing tensions between the royal palace and the Muslim Brotherhood (whose offices were recently shut down in Jordan’s five largest cities) led Amman to avoid exacerbating tensions by escalating divisions over the Temple Mount.
In an attempt to demonstrate their commitment to preserving the peace on the Mount, the Jordanians announced that they will soon hire 150 new inspectors to work for the Waqf, the Islamic religious trust that is responsible for the Temple Mount. This is a 50% increase over the current number of inspectors, and may take several months to implement.
Israel arresting 50-70 Palestinians a week
Throughout the holiday week, great efforts are being taken by Israeli security forces to prevent attacks or incidents between Jewish and Muslim visitors to Jerusalem, particularly in the Temple Mount area. Police presence was greatly reinforced and the Shin Bet security service is taking part in extensive intelligence work, along with the police.
The Shin Bet announced yesterday the arrest of three Nablus residents who had come to the Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood in East Jerusalem. They are suspected of planning an attack in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount has witnessed incidents on a daily basis due to Jewish visitors attempting to carry out religious rites, against police guidelines. In some cases there were confrontations with Muslims on the site.
If the holiday season ends peacefully in Jerusalem and the West Bank, this will be further testimony to the great improvement in the security coordination between Israel and the PA, described recently by senior security officials in Israel as “better than ever.” At the outbreak of the current intifada, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ hesitation was evident with regard to the policy he should pursue in opposing violence, with ambivalent messages commonly broadcast by Palestinian leaders.
The intifada is not over, as attested to by the explosion on the No. 12 bus in Jerusalem last week. However, recent months have seen increased efforts by the PA to prevent stabbing attacks, car-rammings and shootings. Most of these attacks have been planned by “lone wolves” or small local cells. The IDF has recently been arresting 50 to 70 West Bank residents a week suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Dozens of young Palestinians are detained every week, following information (some of it on social media) suggesting that they are planning or considering terrorist attacks. Similar (unpublished) numbers are arrested by the PA. In other words, when the drop in violence is attributed to improved operations by security forces, this includes Palestinian ones no less than Israeli ones.