(May 23, 2021 / JNS) President Joe Biden on Thursday evening claimed credit for brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, saying: “I want to also thank the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, our national security adviser, and everyone on our team for their incredible efforts to bring this about, this outcome that we’re about to see.” There is no doubt that the president is to be granted his due by the media and his allies, but it may well be that he will soon come to wish he hadn’t attached so much of his reputation to it. Indeed, the ceasefire may enable Hamas not only to assert its dominance over the Palestinian Authority, but also to threaten and potentially even unravel the Jordan-Israeli peace treaty using the issue of Jerusalem.
Jordan already felt the heat as the war was ending. Just before the ceasefire took effect, the King of Jordan’s court released a tweet that noted that King Abdullah II had received a phone call from Vice President Kamala Harris, and the two “affirm the need to continue all efforts to stop the Israeli escalations in East #Jerusalem and the aggression on Gaza.” It is dubious that Harris used such loaded language to describe Israeli moves, but the king tends to weigh in in inflated terms on Palestinian issues because he believes he can co-opt them and thus neutralize the threat they can pose. But the statement issued by the King of Jordan following his call with Harris is very troubling because this is not something that can be co-opted, defanged and domesticated.
At the end of the ceasefire, Hamas issued the claim that Israel had yielded on Jerusalem issues and surrendered both the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It would be a grave mistake to simply dismiss this as face-saving rhetoric. Indeed, we, Jordan and Israel are walking into an extremely dangerous trap on Jerusalem which Hamas has laid in the framework of this ceasefire.
Israel denies it ever agreed to such a devastating concession, and yet, it does not matter whether Hamas is telling the truth. The fact is, since the rioting escalated to the Temple Mount surrounding the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr two weeks ago, the Israeli government has barred any Jew from setting foot on the Temple Mount. It did so as a temporary tactical move to calm unnecessary tensions. However, the war is now over, which means in the coming days, Israel will have to make a decision as to whether it will lift that ban. If it does lift the ban, Jews will again be able to go to the Temple Mount, at which point Hamas will ensure that there will be violence so that it maintains and emphasizes its control of events.
That event will represent an immediate escalation, and Jordan will be unable to take a neutral position given the cul-de-sac into which it has rhetorically maneuvered itself. The resulting violence which Hamas will instigate now that it has such immense currency on the Palestinian street will not only threaten the survival of the Palestinian Authority, but it could even reverberate enough to destabilize the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.
On the other hand, if Israel buckles to avoid escalation and continues to bar Jews from the Temple Mount after the ceasefire, then it creates a de facto new status quo that cannot be reversed and will quickly become permanent. This would give Hamas a devastating victory over not only Israel but over the Jewish people, ripping a hole into the soul of the nation. The political power Hamas would gain from this would make it at any rate master of both the P.A. and Jordan, which so unwisely laid down a stake on this issue rather than try to ride it out with as low a profile as possible.
The historical record of this particular king with regard to his ability to escape this trap is not encouraging since he has thus far displayed neither the political nor geopolitical skills to navigate previous crises elegantly without threatening the stability of his throne. As such, there is little hope that he could outsmart Hamas and help the United States or Israel regain control over the situation, or even whether he has the agility to survive.
In short, Hamas has positioned itself in a win-win position over all its enemies, presenting the world with the final verdict in this 11-day war and positioning itself to gut Judaism and threaten both Jordan and the P.A.
We will see shortly whether Israel lifts the prohibition and a Jew ascends the Mount. If so, then we have a crisis in which Jordan, because of its imprudent intervention, will be forced to react with such intensity that it may cause the peace treaty to falter materially. If on the other hand, the ban is not immediately lifted, then Hamas has successfully changed the status quo to ban Jews, leaving Jordan and P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas fatally weak.
This ceasefire is fraught with great peril, and the president should be careful not to attach too much of his or the United States’ reputation and stature to it. It may indeed turn out to be a historical turning point, but not a positive one.
Dr. David Wurmser is director of the Center for Security Policy’s Project on Global Anti-Semitism and the U.S.-Israel Relationship. A former U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer, he has extensive national security experience working for the State Department, the Pentagon, Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Security Council.
This article was first published by the Center for Security Policy.
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