Jordan Spurns U.S. Proposal to Mediate in Temple Mount Crisis With Israel

Americans can't function as go-between on matters concerning Jerusalem in the wake of embassy move, Jordanians say

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Muslims enter the Golden Gate near Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City February 22, 2019
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

The Jordanian government has rejected an American proposal to mediate between Jordan and Israel in an effort to resolve the crisis over the Bab al-Rahma structure on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Jordanians explained that they could not agree to have the Americans serve as go-betweens in any matter concerning Jerusalem, in the wake of the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as the capital of Israel.

In addition, a few years ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a recommendation from the Israel’s National Security Council to allow the Waqf, the Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount, to renovate and develop the building as a goodwill gesture to the Jordanians.

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The Jordanian sources are quoted in a new report on the tension at the Temple Mount, released Wednesday morning by the International Crisis Group, an international organization that works to resolve crises in areas of conflict around the world.

The report is based on a series of interviews with officials in Jordan, Israel and among the Palestinian leadership in East Jerusalem.

The crisis surrounding the Bab al-Rahma or Golden Gate structure broke out about a month and a half ago after the Waqf Council reopened the building, which had been closed by Israeli police in 2003 because they said it was being used by a group affiliated with Hamas.

Since the building was reopened, the police have obtained a new closure order. Despite the pressure from the Jewish Temple Mount organizations, the police have avoided enforcing the closure of the building.

The report quotes an Israeli official who says the closure would require stationing a permanent police force at the site and such a move could lead to a bloodbath. Closing the building without a regular security force would almost certainly be futile as the tens of thousands of worshippers on Fridays would almost certainly break in to the structure.

For now, the police are making do with arrests and removing the Waqf guards who open the doors to the building in the morning from the area.

The report reinforces the claim of the Waqf and Jordanians that they asked Israel a number of times in recent years about opening the building and allocating it to an institution for teaching Islam, but Israel refused to agree to the Jordanian request.

A different official involved in the matter said that four years ago, during the so­­­­­-called “knife intifada,” which also broke out over a crisis on the Temple Mount, the National Security Council recommended to Netanyahu that the Waqf be allowed to open the structure as a goodwill gesture, but he rejected the proposal.

The authors of the report note that the Palestinians fear that Israel plans on turning the building into a synagogue. Palestinians base this claim in part on a 1985 letter from former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu in which he proposes building a synagogue on the roof of the Golden Gate.

More modest proposals concerning the rights of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount were raised by advisers to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the negotiations with the Palestinians in 2000.

Over the past two weeks, the tensions on the Temple Mount have abated — this, despite the fact that the Jewish Temple Mount activists continue to protest the opening of the Bab al-Rahma building and police occasionally arrest the Waqf guards. But the authors of the report warn that without a solution through diplomatic channels, the crisis could escalate.

Jordanian officials are quoted in the report as warning that once U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan is released, the Palestinians may act to escalate the crisis over the Temple Mount.

The report’s conclusions state that all the parties have a shared interest in keeping the building open, but without it serving as a mosque. The structure could once again be used as an Islamic educational institution or a place of worship – but not a full-fledged mosque, for example, without a fixed podium for the imam or without a permanent imam.

The authors of the report say that such understandings could also strengthen the Waqf Council and this is a clear Israeli interest, both because the Waqf is a relatively moderate body compared to the rest of the organizations operating on the Temple Mount, and because this will also help mitigate the crisis between Jordan and Israel.