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memri
August 22, 2019 No.
8236

Senior Jordanian Journalist's Response To Calls For Cancelling Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty: The Decision-Makers Must Proceed With Caution; Cancelling Treaty May Bring About Cancellation Of Jordan's Custodianship Of Holy Sites In Jerusalem

On August 19, 2019, the Jordanian House of Representatives, which is the lower house of the Jordanian parliament, held an urgent special session to discuss the situation in Jerusalem. The session concluded with a number of recommendations, including expelling the Israeli ambassador from Amman, recalling the Jordanian ambassador from Israel, halting all forms of normalization with Israel, and reexamining the 1994 Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty. House speaker 'Atef Al-Tarawneh, who led the session, called on the government to clarify to the Israeli government that the peace treaty was in danger and also called for an Arab Interparliamentary Union conference in Jordan to discuss Israeli violations of the status quo.[1]

These recommendations reflect the anger in Jordan in recent weeks over Israel's policy vis-à-vis Al-Aqsa; the anger peaked against the backdrop of the clashes there during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha that this year coincided with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av, August 10-11, and particularly because of statements by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims have not been allowed to pray there as part of an arrangement that has been in place since the 1967 War. Official Jordanian elements, headed by the Foreign Ministry, hastened to condemn Minister Erdan's statements, which were perceived as an attempt by Israel to change the status quo, and warned about the "grave consequences" that might result.[2]

Furthermore, in Jordan there is apprehension, and not for the first time, that Minister Erdan's statements reflect an attempt by Israel to interfere with Jordan's custodianship of Al-Aqsa mosque and Muslim and Christian holy sites, and perhaps even to replace Jordan with another Arab country – notably Saudi Arabia – as custodian, under the Deal of the Century.[3]

Israel's Foreign Ministry hastened, in an attempt to calm the Jordanians' rage, to renounce Minister Erdan's statements, stressing Israel's recognition of Jordan's special role regarding holy sites in Jerusalem. Jordan, apparently unconvinced, summoned the Israeli ambassador in Jordan for a reprimand and stressed to him its objections to Israel's violations at Al-Aqsa Mosque.[4] The abovementioned special parliamentary session took place two days later.  Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at the session that Jerusalem is a red line for Jordan and warned that the Israeli moves could escalate tensions and even set off a dispute that would threaten global peace and security. He added that the government had clarified to the Israeli ambassador that "Al-Aqsa and the compound surrounding it – all 144 dunam – are a shrine and place of prayer for Muslims only..."[5]

The anger and apprehension in Jordan was expressed in numerous editorials and columns in the Jordanian press. These articles underlined the severity of Minister Erdan's statements and the fear that they reflected an Israeli aspiration to eliminate Jordan's custodianship in Jerusalem. They called on the Jordanian government to take practical steps against Israel and to use the cards it holds, among them threatening to cancel Jordan-Israel security cooperation and even to cancel the peace treaty altogether. One editorial, in the Al-Dustour daily, warned Israel that "playing with fire will have grave consequences" and that as far as Jordan was concerned, "all options are open for Jerusalem's sake." Another writer expressed the fear that Arab countries would collaborate with Israel and the U.S. in the attempt to transfer responsibility for Al-Aqsa to them.[6]

Amid the escalated tension with Israel, an article by senior Jordanian journalist Fahed Al-Khitan, who is close to the Jordanian establishment, stood out. In it he urged to reject the calls for cancelling the peace treaty and clarified that doing so could have unintended negative repercussions, including for Jordan. He pointed out that cancelling the treaty would also cancel recognition of Jordan's custodianship of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, which is part of the treaty. He also complained that Jordan was almost on its own in the battle against Israel in all things connected with events in Jerusalem, in light of the silence and impotence of the Arab world regarding this issue and the U.S. support for Israel. He added that while Jordanians may see Israel as an enemy and an occupier, "diplomacy has its own rules" and "those who set Jordanian policy must proceed with a maximum of caution" in all things concerning its complex relationship with Israel.

This is not the first time Al-Khitan has warned about the idea of cancelling the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. In late 2017, following U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, similar calls were heard in Jordan, including in its parliament. In response to this, Al-Khitan called in an article for careful consideration of this matter and advised against hastening to cancel the treaty.[7] 


Fahed Al-Khitan (Source: Khaberni.com)

The following are translated excerpts of Al-Khitan's article:[8]

Jordan Must Be Cautious In Its Complex Relations With Israel

"Jordan is utilizing every tool available [to it], considering the current Arab and international diplomatic and political reality, to curb the Zionist aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. The Arab arena is not hidden from the eyes of the Jordanian, Palestinian and Arab citizens, and [they know that], with the exception of the unwavering Jordanian positions on what is happening in Jerusalem, no Arab regime is saying anything about it, not even out of diplomatic politeness. On the international level, the European Union is the only force Jordan can coordinate with and count on to support the legitimate international resolutions. We were used to [seeing] the U.S. administration restrain the Israeli escalation whenever it crossed the line, but now [this administration] is on the other side of the fence, defending the aggressive policy of Netanyahu's government and actually outdoing the Israeli right in its hostile policy towards the Palestinians.

"For these reasons, the decision-makers and influential circles in Jordan must proceed with a maximum of caution in every step they take in the complex relations with Israel. Jordan always stresses that Jerusalem, the holy sites and the principles of a just solution to the Palestinian problem – all these and only these – are red lines that must not be crossed. [Jordan] never said that the peace treaty with Israel is also on this list [of red lines]... [but] it should be noted that... the Hashemite custodianship over the Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, and the Jordanian role in administrating them, are legally anchored in a clause of [this] peace treaty. So if the treaty is canceled, this clause – as well as the international positions [that recognize Jordan's role in Jerusalem], which are based on it – will become null and void.

"That would not be a problem if the Arab and Islamic countries had some other way to protect the holy sites from Judiazation and preserve the status quo until the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that would receive sovereignty over these holy sites. [But] so far, no Arab or Islamic country has presented an alternative to the Jordanian role, which is why all of them support the status quo.

"On the popular level, the [peace] treaty does not nullify the Jordanian narrative which remains unchanged in our conscience, the gist of which is that Israel is an enemy occupying Arab land in Palestine and the Golan, that there have been decades of struggle between us, and that we will never forgive [Israel] for [its] cruelty, aggression and inhumanity that have rendered our martyrs' lives forfeit. But diplomacy has its own rules, which countries follow according to their supreme interests and in ways that guarantee the upholding of rights and principles.

"In previous crises over Al-Aqsa and the other holy sites in Jerusalem, which have been many, Jordan always succeeded, by means of its political and diplomatic tools and its network of international relations, in resolving the issues and restoring the status quo, and in stopping the aggression against the holy sites...

"Jordan has cried itself horse urging the Arabs to help the Palestinians in every possible way in order to realize [the goals of] giving them control over their land and supporting their steadfastness, for that is the tested method of opposing the Zionist [policy of] Judaization and settlement-building. The problem of the [Muslim] nation does not lie in a lack of available options [for action regarding Jerusalem], but rather in [their] ability to implement these options. Amid this impotence, don't make Jordan the [only] option [for defending Al-Aqsa] and the [only] alternative [available to] the nation."

 


[1] Al-Rai (Jordan), August 20, 2019.

[2] Al-Ghad (Jordan), August 14, 2019.  

[3] According to various reports, the U.S. is striving, under the Deal of the Century, to involve other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Morocco, in responsibility for the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Jordan, for its part, opposes this, because it considers this strengthening the Saudi presence in Jerusalem at the expense of the Hashemite Kingdom's custodianship of the holy sites there, which is anchored in the Jordan-Israel peace treaty and also in a 2013 Palestinian Authority-Jordan agreement. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1448, Concern In Jordan About 'Deal Of The Century,' Possible Harm To Jordan's Special Status In Jerusalem, April 8, 2019.

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 19, 2019.

[5] Al-Rai (Jordan), August 20, 2019.

[6] Al-Dustour (Jordan), August 17, 18, and 20, 2019; Al-Gad (Jordan), August 17 and 20, 2019; Al-Rai (Jordan), August 20, 2019.

[7] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7251, Senior Jordanian Columnists Warn Against Cancelling Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, December 27, 2017.

[8] Al-Ghad (Jordan), August 20, 2019.