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Jordan asserts custodianship of Al-Aqsa fearing Saudi takeover 

November 27, 2020 at 3:30 pm

Palestinians gather to perform Friday prayer at Masjid Al-Aqsa complex in East Jerusalem’s Old City on 6 November 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has affirmed its custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque following concerns that the fate of Jerusalem’s Islamic sacred sites could be up for grabs in any future normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The concerns are particularly strong during these remaining weeks of the administration of US President Donald Trump.

The Foreign Ministry in Amman released a statement on Wednesday night challenging what it called “attempts to alter the historical and legal status quo” of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa. The warning was issued without any apparent catalyst, but it came on the back of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad Bin Salman. The Saudi Crown Prince has denied that the meeting took place, even though it was reported in the Israeli and US media.

The Jordanians are said to be alarmed by what they see as a rush to formalise ties between Riyadh and Tel-Aviv. They fear that the custodianship of Al-Aqsa could be offered to the Saudis to sweeten a deal between the occupation state and the absolute monarchy on Jordan’s southern border.

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“The Kingdom will continue its efforts to protect and care for the mosque, and preserve the rights of all Muslims to it in compliance with the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites,” said the ministry.

A report in the Guardian said that Amman’s statement followed a call between US President-elect Joe Biden and Jordan’s King Abdullah. This suggests that Wednesday’s statement was co-ordinated between the two men.

The status quo in the Holy City is that the guardianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the Dome of the Rock Mosque and other Islamic and Christian sites, is in the hands of Jordan, despite the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem. Changes to that are likely to trigger a violent backlash.

Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on the aircraft with Netanyahu for the meeting with Bin Salman in northern Saudi Arabia earlier this week, are said to be tempted to change the status quo by offering the Muslim sites to Saudi Arabia as the centrepiece of a normalisation deal.

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Saudi Arabia is the “big prize” for Netanyahu, according to Jawad Anani, whose comments were reported by the Guardian. The former senior royal aide and Jordanian foreign minister however, does not think that Riyadh will be as keen as Trump and Netanyahu to normalise relations under the current administration in Washington.

“I don’t think the Saudis will be in a hurry to give Mr Netanyahu, or even Mr Trump right now, more credit,” explained Anani, “because they have to deal with four years of a potentially not very friendly American administration [if they do].”