10 things to know about Israel’s jittery peace with Jordan

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Israel and Jordan don’t have a cold peace, they have a jittery peace.

The fragility of one of Israel’s most important regional allies – with whom security ties are often described as a cornerstone of regional stability – was underscored by a series of apparent tit-for-tat diplomatic price-tag attacks over the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday, Israel prevented Hashemite Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah from visiting the Temple Mount.

Jordan in retaliation refused on Thursday to authorize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flight path to the United Arab Emirates, causing the trip’s cancelation.

It’s the latest diplomatic skirmish in a 26-year relationship fraught with crises brought on by religion, geo-politics and violence.

Netanyahu might have glossed over the incident, pointing out that the flight path was later approved, but it’s harder to brush away the persistent simmering tensions.

Here is a look at 10 Israeli-Jordanian crisis points, many of which center around the Temple Mount, as the present crisis does.

1. Prince Hussein denied access to Temple Mount

When it comes to the Hashemite Kingdom and its relationship to the Temple Mount, there are no minor mishaps, only deliberate slights.

Israel might have barred Hussein from entering Israel because he wanted to bring a security retinue that was larger than agreed. But the issue at the heart of the dispute is about control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the most holy site for Jews and third-holiest site for Islam.

But the issue at the heart of the dispute was about control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s most holy site and Islam’s third holiest.

There were those in Israel who felt the size of the security details was a deliberate show of Jordanian power and a statement against its authority over the site, which lies within Israel’s sovereign borders.

One Israel Radio commentator noted that by now, Jordan should accept Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

The Hashemite Kingdom’s special custodial relationship to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, is one of the central pillars on which rests a monarchy whose family claims to descend from the Prophet Mohammed, and which takes pride in a long history as the keeper of holy Islamic spaces.

So an Israeli refusal of a visit by a Hashemite member of the Royal Family, even for technical reasons, is a public affront that underscores what the Kingdom already feels has become a tenuous custodial tie to al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

The British in 1924 during its rule over Mandatory Palestine granted the Hashemite Kingdom a special custodial role over the al-Aqsa compound.

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The 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty enshrined that role, but events over the last decade have made Jordan nervous about the future status of that relationship. Wednesday’s border snafu was a stark reminder that its custodial relationship could be in jeopardy.

2. West Bank annexation

Israeli willingness to advance a plan to annex 30% of the West Bank over the last two years, including the Jordan Valley, created an immediate public backlash among the Jordanian public that could have threatened to undermine the Hashemite Kingdom, had Netanyahu not suspended the plan in August.

Palestinians make up over 50% of the population in Jordan, so tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often translate into public pressure on the Jordanian leadership to take a hasher tone with Israel.

King Abdullah and the country’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who led the global diplomatic campaign against annexation, hinted throughout that they could renege on the country’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel should annexation move forward. The scars from that battle are still visible

3. A Saudi role on the Temple Mount?

There was public speculation that in order to entice Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel, the Trump administration had considered weakening Jordan’s sole role as custodian of al-Aqsa Mosque compound by offering a role to the Saudi Arabian monarchy, the House of Saud.

It was a move that would have been a violation of the 1994 peace treaty, and which struck a particularly sensitive nerve because of the competition between the Hashemites and the House of Saud as the spiritual keepers of the Islamic faith.

Until the early 20th century, the Hashemite monarchy had controlled the two holiest Islamic mosques in Mecca and Medina.

A century ago, it lost control of Mecca and Medina to the House of Saud, so its only foothold on Islamic holy spaces is now its special custodial role over the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem.

The possibility that Israel could back a Saudi Temple Mount plan so detrimental to the Hashemite monarch was not lost on the royal family.

4. Israeli drive to change Temple Mount status quo

The Temple Mount, where the biblical Temple once stood, is one of the most volatile flash points in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is governed by a very careful arrangement among Israel, Jordan and the Islamic Wakf (Islamic trust), which administers the site that everyone can visit but where only Muslims can worship. The ban on non-Muslim worship has been in place since the aftermath of the Six Day War.

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Former US president Donald Trump’s peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alluded to a change in that status quo that would allow for those of all faiths to pray there, including Jews.

There has been a growing political movement within the Israeli Right, including by ministers of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, to allow Jewish worship at the site.

Netanyahu has continually spoken of maintaining the status quo, but persistent comments by his ministers as well as legislative drives in the Knesset has given Jordan cause for concern.

Jordan’s persistent warnings about the erosion of the Temple Mount status quo has, in turn, inflamed Palestinians and helped spark violent incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

5. Temple Mount metal detector crisis

A brief crisis erupted in the summer of 2017 after two Israeli policemen were shot to death by the Lion’s Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City by three Israeli-Arabs, who had just visited al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the weekly Friday prayers. After the attack they ran back in the direction of the Temple Mount, where they were killed by Israeli police.

To prevent further such attacks, Israel placed metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount to ensure that Muslim worshipers were not armed. The decision sparked immediate violent protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and created an immediate diplomatic backlash with Jordan.

By July 25, Israel decided to remove the detectors and calm was restored.

It was the third such crisis in three years. When the “knife intifada” began in 2015, Jordan warned Israel that its security measures had violated the status quo. In 2014, it withdrew its ambassador for three months after Israeli security forces responded to clashes at al-Aqsa by entering the main mosque and throwing percussion grenades.

6. Dispute over Jordanian detained

In 2019, a dispute broke out between the two countries when Israel detained but initially refused to release two Jordanians it suspected of security transgression, Hiba Labadi and Abdul Rahman Miri. Israel released them only after Jordan recalled its ambassador.

7. Violence at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman

In July 2017, a violent incident occurred in an apartment within the Israel Embassy compound in Amman that left two Jordanians dead.

According to Israel, a Jordanian worker violently stabbed the embassy’s deputy director of security, while moving furniture in his home. The landlord was also present. The security guard defended himself, fatally shooting 16-year-old Mohammad Jawawdeh, and also mortally wounding the landlord, Bashar Kamel Hamarneh.

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Jordan claimed that the security guard had unnecessarily fired his gun when a dispute turned violent. Israel spoke of it as a terror attack, with Netanyahu hailing the security guard as a hero.

Jordan allowed the security guard to be returned to Israel and then-ambassador Einat Schlein left the county, while Israel agreed to remove the metal detectors. A new Israeli ambassador was sent to Jordan only in April of 2018.

8. Jordan shuts down Island of Peace

In light of Israeli-Jordanian tensions, King Abdullah in 2019 refused to extend a land lease with Israel that had been an annex to the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

Under the terms of the deal, privately owned Jewish land near the Sea of Galilee was given to Jordan, but Israelis were allowed to farm the site and tourists could visit what had become known as the Island of Peace.

Jordan similarly refused to extend a contract under which it leased farm land to Moshav Tzofar along the southern border between the two countries, ending that arrangement in 2020.

9. Island of Peace massacre

In 1997, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term in office, a Jordanian soldier killed seven Israeli school girls who were on a field trip to the Island of Peace. Ahmed Daqamseh was tried and convicted in Jordan, which released him 20 years later in 2017.

10. Failed poison plot by Mossad against Khaled Mashaal in Jordan

A Mossad plot to poison former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan in 1997 was foiled by the country’s security forces, but only after the poison had been injected. Israel gave Jordan the antidote and freed Palestinian prisoners, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in exchange for the release and return of the two Mossad agents.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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