Jordan’s Abdullah warns Israel not to cross ‘red lines’ on Jerusalem’s holy sites

Jordanian King Abdullah II has warned the incoming Israeli government not to cross Jordan’s “red lines” with regard to Jerusalem’s holy sites, while expressing concern over the potential for a massive outbreak of Palestinian unrest.

In an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday, Abdullah was asked if he believed that the status quo in Jerusalem and Jordan’s role were under threat.

Jordan views itself as a custodian of the Temple Mount, setting up a potential clash with hardline lawmakers from incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition like Otzmah Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir, who has pushed for Israel to assert its sovereignty over the Jerusalem holy site and allow Jewish worship there.

“You always have those people who will try and push that and that is a concern,” Abdullah said without mentioning names.

“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we are quite prepared. I always like to believe that ‘Let’s look at the glass half full,’ but we have set red lines and if people want to push those red lines then we will deal with that,” he added.

Abdullah noted that “there are a lot of people in Israel concerned as much as we are.”

Israeli security forces escort a group of religious Jews as they visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The Temple Mount houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. It is also believed by Jews to be the historic location of the two Jewish temples, making it Judaism’s holiest location.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mountain. Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognized Amman’s “special role… in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”

Small changes at the site or to that arrangement are liable to spark protests which could snowball beyond Jordan or the Palestinians to the wider Muslim world.

Ben Gvir and other far-right politicians have long pushed for changes to the status quo, under which only Muslims are allowed to worship inside the compound while Jews may visit Judaism’s holiest site, but not pray there.

The Otzma Yehudit leader will head a newly created National Security Ministry overseeing the police in the next government. The Israel Police sets day-to-day policies at the Temple Mount, potentially giving Ben Gvir significant sway over arrangements at the flashpoint site.

However, the coalition deal signed by all of Netanyahu’s bloc stipulates that the status quo “with regard to the holy places” will be preserved.

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir arrives to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In the CNN interview, Abdullah was also asked if he was concerned about the prospect of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, following months of violence in the West Bank.

The first two intifadas, in the late 1980s and the early 2000s, were marked by deadly terror attacks against Israelis and clashes with troops on a near-daily basis.

“We have to be concerned about the next intifada,” Abdullah said. “And if that happens that’s a complete breakdown of law and order and one that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will benefit from.

“That’s a tinderbox that if it flashes, it’s something that I don’t think we’ll be able to walk away from in the near future,” he added.

The interview with the Jordanian monarch was aired a day before the swearing-in of Israel’s new government, which is set to be the most right-wing and religious in the country’s history.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan, Jordanian Royal Palace)

During Netanyahu’s last stint as premier between 2009 and 2021, ties between Jerusalem and Amman deteriorated markedly, with Abdullah saying in 2019 that relations were “at an all-time low” after a series of incidents that prompted Jordan to recall its ambassador to Israel.

Notable spats included Netanyahu’s embrace of a security guard who was returned to Israel after shooting dead two Jordanian nationals — one of whom attacked him with a screwdriver — at the Israeli embassy residence in Amman in 2017, prompting an angry response from Jordan; and the Jordanian decision in March 2021 to block the then-Israeli prime minister from flying over Jordan en route to Abu Dhabi following a canceled visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by Crown Prince Hussein.

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