May 14 2013

Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound Unrest Threatens Israel-Jordan Diplomacy

Published by at 1:29 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics



By Daoud Kuttab

Sometimes the best way to gauge reactions to a particular action is to look away from it. The reactions of the Jordanian parliament and government on Wednesday, May 8, to Israel’s decisions regarding Al-Aqsa mosque is a prime example.

Jordan, one of two Arab countries that has signed a peace agreement with Israel, decided to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv and summoned the Israeli ambassador to lodge a strong complaint about the events in Jerusalem. The Jordanian parliament, however, was much more radical, with MPs voting unanimously to demand that the government expel the Israeli ambassador.

While the decision of the parliament is not binding on the executive branch, it would be a mistake to dismiss the decision. Such an action reflects an increasingly angry mood in the Arab world in reaction to Israeli incursions into the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Many Arab news agencies reported that the Israeli army and police, which control one of the gates to the mosque area (the Mughrabi gate), had facilitated the entry of dozens of radical Jewish settlers who believe Al-Aqsa is in the very same area as the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans 2,000 years ago.

While Israelis entered from the Mughrabi gate, Israeli police jointly guarded all other gates. The Jordanian-paid waqf police denied many Muslims entry into the mosque area over two days, leaving many Palestinians worried that Israel is trying to create a new arrangement in Islam’s third-holiest mosque.

Palestinians and Muslims at large fear a recurrence of what has already happened in Hebron, where the Israelis decide who is allowed to enter the Ibrahimi mosque to pray, splitting the time for prayers in the same location between Jews and Muslims. The Ibrahimi mosque is the location where the faithful believe that Father Abraham lies. Abraham is considered the spiritual founder of Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Wednesday’s events in Jordan can only be seen as an attempt to send a strong message to the Israeli government about the dangers of playing with the fire of religious emotions. Jordan and its Hashemite king have a special arrangement with Israel stipulated in the Jordan-Israel peace treaty that gives Jordan a special role in deciding the future of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem.

The actions of the Jordanian parliament are important for yet another reason. This was not simply a reaction by angry and emotional MPs. Observers at the Wednesday-morning session of the Jordanian house of representatives noticed that the prime minister as well as the minister of the waqf were providing a sort of play-by-play for the parliament based on information they were receiving from their employees in the mosque area.

“Our ambassador in Tel Aviv has just reported that 162 Jewish settlers have just entered Al-Aqsa mosque area using the Mughrabi Gate.” These were the exact words of Jordan’s prime minister to the parliament. Following heated discussions, an MP called on the king to declare war on Israel and another called for the release of a Jordanian soldier who was convicted of killing seven Israeli students in Jordan. It was unclear whether the rise in rhetoric by the government was pre-planned or an attempt by the prime minister not to appear to be any less patriotic than members of the parliament.

Whatever the reasons behind the strong Jordanian reaction to the Israeli actions in Jerusalem, it is important to note that Muslims account for about 23% of the world population, numbering somewhere between 1.5 billion and 2 billion. Actions carried out by Israel against an important Islamic mosque will not go unnoticed. If a moderate country such as Jordan, which has a peace agreement with Israel, reacts this way, it is difficult to imagine what the reactions will be from other countries.

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