Jordan has asked Israel to allow it to build a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, on the eastern wall of the Mount, facing the Mount of Olives. The Jordanian request is not new, and as far as it is known, at least at this stage, Israel does not intend to allow it. This issue has again been put on the public agenda, along with other matters relating to the ties between Jordan and Israel on the Temple Mount, in light of Jordan’s decision not to renew the lease agreement for land in Naharayim and the Arava, which Israeli farmers have been working for the past 25 years.
Israel intends to open a general dialogue with Jordan on security, intelligence, economic and agricultural issues related to diplomatic ties between both countries. Jordan seeks to include within this discussion, at least formally, the issue of the Temple Mount. Israel’s relations with Jordan on the Temple Mount are based on informal understandings that are intended to prevent the growth of extreme elements on the mount, such as Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. The understandings are also supposed to allow Jordan to influence Temple Mount affairs as part of the empowerment that the Hashemite royal family wants to demonstrate to the Jordanian public so that it can stabilize its rule and show its achievements against the opponents of the regime among the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.
The only formal basis of the special relationship between Israel and Jordan regarding the Temple Mount is the peace agreement that was signed between the two. The agreement states that out of all the Arab countries, Israel will grant top priority to Jordan with regard to the sites that are holy to Islam in Jerusalem. An additional formal dimension of this special relationship between Israel and Jordan on the Temple Mount are the understandings reached by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and Jordan several years ago. Within the framework of these understandings, Israel and Jordan created the current situation and for the first time formally established that Jews cannot exercise their right to pray on the Temple Mount, although they can visit.
The issue of the “fifth minaret” has been on the agenda as part of a series of discussions with Jordan about the Temple Mount for a long time. Jordan has now renewed its request on this matter as part of a growing rivalry with Turkey over exerting an influence on the Old City and the Temple Mount.
Currently, there are four minarets on the Temple Mount:1
- The al-Fakhariyya Minaret, which was built by the Mamelukes in 1345 as a square tower with three floors.
- The Shalshelet Minaret, which is the most important minaret on the Temple Mount, constructed by the Mameluke governor Tankiz in 1329.
- The al-Ghawanima Minaret in the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, a four-story tower built at the end of the Mameluke period.
- The Minaret of the Tribes, an engraved minaret that is round rather than square. It is the only one on the northern wall that was built in 1368.2
Jordan’s desire to build a fifth minaret is intended to assert its influence and status on the Temple Mount in an official manner for generations. The last time Jordan managed to acquire a similar symbolic influence was during the 1980s, when King Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, invested millions of dollars in renovations and gilding of the Mount’s Dome of the Rock. At that time, protracted ceremonies and celebrations were held in Jordan, and the Arab world marked this event, which was widely applauded.
Jordan’s connection with the Temple Mount has a long history. After World War I, the Hashemite dynasty lost the role of guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina to the Saudis, but “comforted itself” with being the secondary guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Hussein bin Ali, who served as the sheriff and governor of Mecca, was a descendant of the Hashemites, whose ancestors believed that they were descendants of the prophet Mohammed. He died in 1931 and was buried on the Temple Mount. His son, King Abdullah I, succeeded him, and he became the first king of Jordan, which was established as a country in 1946. Abdullah I was murdered in the Al-Aqsa mosque on July 20, 1951, by an agent of the Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini because of his contacts with the leadership of the Jewish administration in Israel. His grandson, King Hussein, who succeeded him shortly afterward, witnessed the murder.
From 1948 to 1967, Jordan ruled over the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It considered itself the guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Even after Israel liberated Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site for the Jewish nation, Jordan continued to watch over the Temple Mount, paying the wages of the Waqf religious council, investing considerable resources into the site, and providing the carpets in the mosques.
As part of the understandings with Israel, Jordan was given the task of renovating the southern and eastern walls of the Temple Mount, as these became unstable 15 years ago. Israel also agreed to Jordan’s request not to change the temporary Mughrabi Bridge, which was erected at the Mughrabi Gate, the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims. The temporary wooden bridge was built there when the dirt track leading to the gate collapsed in the winter of 2004.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.