In July last year, Israel closed Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers for the first time in 17 years. The move followed increased tensions in Jerusalem, after two Israeli policemen and three Palestinians were killed. Two days later, Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance to the compound, sparking waves of condemnations, demonstrations and accusations. Hundreds of Palestinians prayed in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. The world waited and watched.
Across the River Jordan in the eponymous Hashemite Kingdom, thousands demonstrated in the streets of Amman. According to Sawsan Al-Keilani, “these protests and demonstrations were of great importance, because they first expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and second stressed the Arab and Islamic right to Al-Haram Al-Sharif [the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa].” She adds that the protests reminded onlookers that Al-Aqsa Mosque “is not only for the Palestinians, but is for more than 1.5 billion Muslims” around the world. The strength and scale of the protests represented “an obstacle to the attempts of the Israeli occupation authorities to impose a new fait accompli by dividing Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” disrupting the status quo that has prevailed over the compound for decades.
Jordanian custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, is steeped in history. In 1924, Sharif Hussein Ibn Ali Al-Hashimi, then King of Hijaz, was visited by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al-Husseini. Hajj Amin informed the Sharif that Al-Aqsa Mosque was under threat, and called upon him to help the people of Jerusalem in their plight. The Sharif donated 50,000 golden lire to restore the Mosque and other holy sites across the city of Jerusalem.
Almost a century later, Sharif Hussein’s descendant, King Abdullah II of Jordan, honours this long history of Hashemite custodianship over Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Keilani explains that Jordan has “a duty to defend Jerusalem based on this legal, religious, and moral guardianship.” This is a role that the Kingdom carries out through the Waqf, the endowment that manages the site. Despite the extensive changes that have taken place in the recent history of the Holy City — from invasion to division and occupation — this Jordanian custodianship has remained constant.
Lately, however, the status quo has been challenged repeatedly. Incursions into the Noble Sanctuary compound by Israeli extremists have become more frequent. In May, a group of extremist settlers stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard on the first day of Ramadan under the protection of Israeli security forces. In April, an Israeli court ruled that Jews storming Al-Aqsa can chant patriotic slogans such as “Am Yisrael chai” (the people of Israel live) as this does not count as religious prayers. It is forbidden under the status quo agreement for Jews to worship on the compound.
Asked what Jordan is doing to prevent these incursions and violations of the status quo, Al-Keilani says that the government in Amman has warned repeatedly of the consequences of the incursions of Jewish extremists, not least because this provokes Muslims, assaults their sanctities and triggers protests in the region. “Jordan fears that this will contribute to a dangerous situation in the city of Jerusalem and beyond.” To combat the violations, a number of Jordanian MPs, civil institutions and unions have denounced Israeli provocations. “Some have even called for the cancellation of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the closure of the Israeli Embassy in Amman and the cancellation of the gas agreement with the Israeli authorities.”
The question remains whether Jordan can take legal action against Israelis who disrupt the status quo or, indeed, against the State of Israel itself for its support for and shielding of these individuals. In the long term, though, “Jordan believes that ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy, is the only solution to the issue.”
But what happens when these mechanisms of international diplomacy and legitimacy are undermined and ignored repeatedly, not only by Israel but also by its leading ally, the United States? The announcement by President Donald Trump that the US would move its embassy to Jerusalem, and his rapid following through on this promise in May, have in many ways changed the rules of the game and paved the way for overt violations of international law.
“The transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem is invalid because it violates the resolutions of international legitimacy, which consider Jerusalem [to be] an occupied territory,” Al-Keilani points out. “The transferring of embassies to Jerusalem is not allowed, because this action legitimises the occupation and gives Israel the green light to pursue its aggressive policy without being inhibited.”
Jordan believes that the US Embassy move not only “enthused feelings in Jerusalem, as well as the Arab and Islamic world, [but also that] the adoption of such a decision […] will hinder the process of negotiations and the possibility of reaching a solution that satisfies both the Israeli and Palestinian parties.” Yet in the absence of negotiations and no peace process to speak of, where does Jordan see Al-Aqsa, and Jerusalem more broadly, going from here?
Al-Keilani suggests that, in light of the repeated violations of the status quo and international law, the Israeli occupation authorities are “not worthy” of having control over Jerusalem. “Maintaining the current political situation in Jerusalem is not at all reassuring,” she adds. Israeli intransigence is a huge obstacle to any future resolution.
On the 70th anniversary of the Nakba — “a black date for all Arab peoples” — the fate of Jerusalem remains in doubt. Noting that “the strong do not remain strong and supported forever, and the weak don’t remain weak forever,” Israel’s neighbour calls upon its government to “respect the unique role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan regarding the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.”