Jordan’s King Abdullah is to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday amid tensions with Israel over the management of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites.
Although Jordan is custodian of those sites under a 1994 peace treaty with the Jewish state, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recently announced a rejection of any foreign involvement on managing the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound there.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who is accompanying Abdullah on his U.S. visit, called the meeting with Biden “important for the discussion of regional issues.” Talks will also cover the recent surge of terrorist attacks in Israel, centered on Jerusalem and its holy sites, as well as the West Bank.
The pending meeting between Abdullah and Biden comes about six weeks after the king held talks in Amman with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on regional issues. Herzog’s trip to Jordan marked the first official visit there by an Israeli head of state.
Speaking to Sky News Arabia, Safadi underscored Jordan’s position that “any measure that violates the status quo in Jerusalem is legally void,” dismissing any change to Jordan’s continued custodianship of the Muslim and Christian holy sites. Palestinian journalist and analyst Daoud Kuttab in Amman told VOA that any change would be a violation on three counts. The first is the Status Quo Agreement by Ottoman Sultan Osman III in 1757 that regulates relations among all of Jerusalem’s faith groups.
“A violation on the Status Quo Agreement, the 1757 agreement, that has survived the Turkish, the British, the Jordanian and the early years of the occupation,” Kuttab said. “Secondly, it’s a violation of the understanding by [former Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, King Abdullah, and [former U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry in 2014, which stated that Al-Aqsa is for Muslims to pray and for all others to visit. And it contradicts Israel’s foreign minister, who said that Israel respects the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Foreign Minister Safadi also urged Israel to preserve calm around those places, particularly the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
As custodian of the compound, Jordan tries to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and has been heavily involved in efforts to maintain calm there. But the area has witnessed repeated violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police.
Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad also inflamed tensions by calling for stepped up attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank during the recent Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which coincided with Passover and Easter this year.
On Monday, King Abdullah met with Christian leaders in New York. Journalist Kuttab noted that the king underscored the importance of Jordanian custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
“They affirmed support for the king’s efforts in protecting both Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and the respect of the Status Quo understanding,” Kuttab said.
That same day, King Abdullah and Queen Rania received an award from the Road to Peace Foundation of the Vatican Mission to the United Nations. It recognizes their role in promoting interfaith dialogue and working for peace, and Jordan’s humanitarian efforts in hosting refugees.