Israel’s upcoming negotiations with Jordan about renewing the lease agreements for the lands in the Jordan Valley and in the Arava Desert may wind up leading to discussions, and possibly Israeli concessions, on the Temple Mount.
In recent years, Jordan has become Israel’s silent partner in the administration of the Temple Mount, particularly in handling crises, and it has great influence over what happens there. The possibility that Israel might allow Jordan to take a few more nibbles is an unwelcome one, to say the least.
A kind of balance has been achieved recently that entails comparative boons for the Jewish side: More Jewish visitors are being allowed onto the Mount and into Jordan, an Israeli-Jordanian mechanism exists to discuss issues such as the number of Muslim Waqf officials employed at the site, and both countries are taking action against radical elements.
Any agreement by Israel to Jordan’s repeated demand for a fifth minaret on the mount or to anything that affects the “quota” of Jewish visitors allowed onto the site comprises yet another attack on Israel’s already limited sovereignty over the mount.
As part of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, Israel gave Jordan authority over other Arab countries on the mount. With all sympathy for the distress of the Israeli farmers who have worked land leased from Jordan, and they have certainly taken brutal hits, the Temple Mount is not a currency to be used to convince the Jordanians to rethink their position.
Israel’s reported military and economic cooperation with Jordan are in Jordan’s interest no less than Israel’s—and possibly more so. Jordan consumes enormous quantities of natural gas from Israel, and the Jordanian army conducts maneuvers with France, Britain and the United States.
All this is sufficient to anchor the negotiations between Israel and Jordan, leaving the Temple Mount out of it.
Back in 1967, Israel made too big a concession on the Temple Mount when it agreed to prohibit Jews from praying there.
That was a huge mistake, but it is spilled milk now. The least we should do today is to explain to the world how inconceivable it was for Israel to make such a concession, which is unprecedented in interreligious relations anywhere in the world. We certainly shouldn’t make things worse.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.