Who Really Controls the Temple Mount? King of Jordan Insists That He Does
Last week, King Abdullah of Jordan stood in front of his parliament and declared that he would never give up their rule over Jerusalem. This statement may seem fantastical at face value but a closer look at the convoluted interests and history of Judaism’s holiest site reveal the deep waters that lie behind that statement.
The Hashemite Kingdom’s 100-year History in Jerusalem
On Thursday, Jordan’s King Abdullah inaugurated the 19th Parliament’s non-ordinary session and delivered the Speech from the Throne, emphasizing his commitment to the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, saying, “The Hashemite Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites is a duty, a commitment, a firm belief, and a responsibility we have proudly undertaken for more than a hundred years.”
In the speech, he stated that this custodianship was inextricably linked to the creation of a Palestinian state inside the borders of Israel with its capital in Jerusalem.
“Achieving just and comprehensive peace on the basis of the two-state solution is our strategic choice, and it must guarantee the establishment of an independent, sovereign, and a viable Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” King Abdullah said to the Jordanian parliament. “Denying the Palestinian people their just and legitimate rights is the very reason our region continues to suffer conflict and instability.”
“We have not, and will never, waver from defending Jerusalem, its holy sites, its identity, and its history. The Hashemite Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites is a duty, a commitment, a firm belief, and a responsibility we have proudly undertaken for more than a hundred years. Jerusalem is the symbol of peace, and we will not accept any attempts to alter its historical and legal status quo, nor attempts of the temporal or spatial division of Al Aqsa Mosque[the silver domed mosque on the Temple Mount] and Al-Haram Al-Sharif [the gold-domed Muslim shrine built over the site of the Holy of Holies].”
Will Saudi Arabia Take Over Temple Mount?
King Abullah’s concern has reportedly increased over rumors that a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia would include an agreement that Saudi Arabia receives some authority or custodianship over the Temple Mount compound. This came to a boil two weeks ago when Prime Minister Netanyahu paid an unprecedented trip to Saudi Arabia.
The House of Saud, the Saudi Arabian royal family, claim to be the leaders of the Sunni world on the merit of their custodianship of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Isam. Custodianship of the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa, a mosque with religious significance to many Muslims, would solidify this standing.
To further complicate matters, Turkey has been investing in Palestinian organizations in the eastern sections of Jerusalem in an attempt to gain influence over the city. Turkey recognizes Hamas as a valid political entity and had aided Hamas operatives in Istanbul.
The Supreme Muslim Council declared Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy to be the custodian of the site in 1924 when the city was under the British mandate. This role was solidified when Jordan illegally occupied the eastern section of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in 1948. Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 war and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. However, it allowed the Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount. Jordan renounced its claims to the territory in 1988 and an agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1994 reestablished Jordan’s status as the custodian of the Temple Mount while affirming Israel’s sovereignty over Judaism’s holiest site. The Waqf, a Jordanian-appointed council, oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. In 2013, an agreement between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, a political entity created by the Oslo Accords in 1993, recognized Jordan’s role.
The Hashemites, the royal family of Jordan, have ruled since 1921. The family had ruled the city of Mecca continuously from the 10th century until they were ousted by the House of Saud in 1924.
Professor Reiter: “It All Depends How You Look At it”
Yitzchak Reiter, a political scientist who is a full professor of Islamic, Middle East and Israel Studies, explained the complex situation.
“From July 1967, the Israeli government decided that the management of the site will be overseen by the Waqf, the Muslim endowment that oversees holy sites in Jerusalem,” Professor Reiter explained to Israel365 News. T”he boss of the Waqf is in Jordan. Jordan pays most of the salaries of the hundreds of Waqf employees in Jerusalem. Israel established sovereignty over all of Jerusalem in 1980 in the Basic Law. This is not recognized by international law.”
“There is a big difference between having administrative authority versus having sovereignty. The administrator is the Waqf but Israel is the sovereign ruler. There has been a competition between the Israeli authorities, like the police and the Waqf, a form of power struggle.”
“In 2013, there was an agreement between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the King of Jordan in which Abbas gave the custodianship to the king. This strange move came as a result of Abbas’ fear that Israel was taking more control of the site. Israel was allowing more Jews on the site and bending more to the will of the Israeli right-wing. The fear was that the Temple Mount would become like the Cave of the Patriarchs which is split between the Jews and the Muslims.”
“Abbas was also afraid that if he did not express in some way his control over the Temple Mount, he would appear irrelevant in the power struggle,” Professor Reiter said.
The irrelevancy of the Palestinians in these complex relationships has been highlighted in the wake of the Abraham Accords which have made it clear that peace in the region between Israel and the Arab states is independent of the relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There are many ways to look at the question of who rules the Temple Mount depending on who you ask and who they are talking to at the moment,” Professor Reiter explained.
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