Jordan Challenged by Jewish Rights on Mount

Jordan is used to the status quo in Jerusalem, but it might have to overcome its own pride and soon accept Jewish demands for change.

Gedalyah Reback ,

Jordan's King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas
Jordan's King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas
Flash 90

Ties between Jerusalem and Amman are frosty on the outside, but warm on the inside. Last year’s tensions over the Temple Mount brought Jordan to withdraw its ambassador from Israel – although the police response to terrorist attacks was far tamer than the attacks themselves. Jerusalem is a tough issue for Jordan’s government, which forced Binyamin Netanyahu even during the final days of his campaign to declare he would not upset the status quo on Mt. Moriah and start a “religious war.”

“Tensions around the holy places in Jerusalem primarily harm ties of Israel and Jordan on the public level," says Ofir Winter of the Institute for National Security Studies. “They may result in hostile rhetoric from the Jordanian royal family or media forums (calling) to reduce normalization and stop the joint economic projects between the two countries.”

Regardless, the public fighting between Amman and Jerusalem did not touch the security links between the two governments.

“Despite all that, security cooperation and intelligence are well below the surface - around the common security and strategic that Israel and Jordan share – are made to survive even through diplomatic tremors,” said Winter.

Efforts to change the status quo alarm Jordan. It is hard to tell how open Jordan itself would be to any major changes in Jerusalem because they treat the issue so sensitively.

Israelis tend to scoff at the idea that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would resolve all – much less, any – of the other major conflicts in the Middle East. Jordan has a more intimate connection with the struggle.

“Israel supplies Jordan with a stable western border. In conjunction with that, Jordan sees the Palestinian conflict a providing fuel to the Islamists' fire. Therefore, the main aid Jordan wants from Israel in the context of fighting ISIS is dowsing the flames of the conflict,” Winter said.

That does not mean Jordan sees Israel as a threat. ISIS represents a truer threat to the Jordanians, who see “on the one hand an external threat from Syria and Iraq; on the other pockets of support for Islamists” inside the Kingdom.

Is Israel providing any real intelligence aid to Jordan on ISIS? Winter can’t be sure.

There is concern about the viability of the partnership beyond real-time security threats, though. The peace, like the one with Egypt, is considered a “cold peace.”

Israelis, Jordanians and common allies like the US have tried to warm the cold peace between the two countries with little to no avail. Security is tight, but the public reception of the treaty – mainly on the Jordanian side – has been far less than hospitable. That has been a theme behind the Red-Dead Project, a massive canal built from the Eilat-Aqaba tip of the Red Sea, though Jordanian desert before emptying into the Dead Sea.

Many have come out against the Red-Dead Canal for environmental reasons, asserting that it would likely cause more damage than repair by working against the natural ecology of the area, risking the health of marine life in the Gulf of Eilat, and injure the delicate salt-to-water ratio in the Dead Sea that existed even prior to its massive level reduction in the last few years. While some of those issues have been addressed, the option of this canal versus other projects might be more appealing from a diplomatic perspective because of its tremendous scope.

“The Red-Dead Canal was designed firstly to help Jordan cope with a water shortage and then to raise the level of the Dead Sea,” explained Winter.

“Its value is in the peaceful links between the states and strengthening the legitimacy of the treaty in the mind of the Jordanian body politic. At its heart, (the point is) to improve the image of the peace treaty by bearing economic fruit for the benefit of the Jordanians who have barely felt any material benefit of the first 20 years of that peace.”

That peace, again, might be threatened if Jewish rights move to fast or in an uncoordinated way on Mt. Moriah. When asked if continued public activism for Jewish rights on the Mount would agitate the Jordanians, Winter offers some daylight.

“Changes in the status quo on holy places in Jerusalem, if done without the Jordanians or even in spite of their view, might seriously harm ties between the countries. That's for two reasons. Firstly, most Jordanians are Palestinian, so Jordan will be affected sharply and immediately by escalation. Secondly, the house of Abdullah II sees the Temple Mount as a symbol of merged national narratives that glorifies the 'religious legitimacy' of his rule as a “Guardian of the Holy Basin.’”

Jordan does not have a religious regime, but Jordanians are still Muslims and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood is palpable. Guarding the major site in Jerusalem is a sort of cornerstone of the Jordanian monarchy. Were it to ‘fall’ in a manner of speaking, the regime itself might also be swept up in the consequent upheaval. Israel is wary of this as well.

“The ‘blood connection’ between Jordanian sovereignty and the city of Jerusalem draws its life force from the founding fathers of the dynasty: the noble King Hussein bin Ali buried by the Mount, his son King Abdullah I was assassinated in Jerusalem. King Hussein invested a lot into fixing up Al-Aqsa Mosque (on the southern end of the Temple Mount),” said Winter.

“Therefore, the Jordanian government sees itself as obligated to defend Muslims' rights at the Islamic shrines in Jerusalem,” he added.

While it might seem odd – or even hypocritical given the extent to which King Abdullah II has tried to avoid any responsibility for helping solve the Palestinian issue – the King still expects to be in the driver’s seat on the Mount were any agreement to be reached between Jerusalem and Ramallah.”

“As such, he also aims to play a meaningful role on the Mount in the framework of a set political order that will (presumably) be established between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”