(April 15, 2019 / The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Reports on the upcoming publication of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace initiative have whipped Jordan into a frenzy. Particularly troubling for it is the possibility of a change in its traditional status on the Temple Mount as guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Instead, Jordan fears there will be a general Arab-Islamic guardian, meaning that Saudi Arabia will replace Jordan as the true guardian of the holy sites.
From a historical point of view, the Hashemites having been pushed out as the guardians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, makes it extremely difficult for them to come to terms with losing guardianship over the Al-Aksa mosque. Jordanian spokesmen have expressed themselves harshly on this issue, saying that this is a red line, and that Jordan will reconsider all of its regional alliances as a result of such a move.
Developments behind the scenes with regard to the management of the Islamic Waqf should be noted in this connection. At first, Jordan reached an agreement with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas about a change in the Waqf administration and the inclusion of Fatah personnel in it. Although neither have said so officially, this was a signal to Saudi Arabia that Jordan and Abbas are the landlords of the mosques and will not allow themselves to be pushed out.
However, just when it seemed that Jordan and the P.A. had created a united front against Saudi Arabia, they began to clash over who would actually lead the new Waqf administration.
Jordan saw to it that the addition of senior Fatah officials would not violate Jordan’s practical control of the council, but the P.A. in Ramallah had other ideas.
Sources in eastern Jerusalem report an all-out war is under way over the leadership of the new council. Ramallah wants to appoint Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, an Abbas loyalist, to lead the council. Jordan is completely opposed; it offered leadership of the council to Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri. Abbas removed Sabri, who had been appointed by Yasser Arafat, as mufti of Jerusalem back in 2006, reportedly for his growing popularity and dangerous political views. Sheikh Hussein was appointed by Abbas as Sabri’s successor. Sources revealed that when Ramallah found out, Tanzim-Fatah forces threatened Sheikh Sabri. He informed the Jordanians that he had been threatened and thus could not take them up on their offer.
Thus, after a brief honeymoon, Jordan and Ramallah are now again divided over Jerusalem.
Before the recent summit in Tunis, Jordan’s King Abdullah took an interesting step. He met with King Hassan II of Morocco, who is also from the Hashemite dynasty, in other words from the family of sharifs (“guardians”) that claim descent from the prophet Mohammed.
Morocco is also currently fighting local Wahhabist elements and attributes this pressure to Saudi Arabia. Relations between Morocco and the Saudis have chilled a great deal as a result. The two Hashemite kings have thus identified a joint interest and are uniting against what they attribute to Saudi Arabia’s strong influence over the design of the U.S. plan.
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and “Al Hamishmar” newspaper. He currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.