A historic agreement signed in Amman Sunday, March 31, between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II takes a new stand on Jerusalem – one of the core issues subject to negotiation with Israel – by accepting the king as Custodian of the city’s Holy Sites. The Palestinians agreed that Abdullah “will oversee and manage the Waqf (Muslim religious authority) in Jerusalem” and represent the interests of the Holy Sites “in relevant international forums… through feasible legal means.”
Where the Palestinian (Wafa) and Jordanian (Petra) versions of the same agreement differ is over the definition of “Palestinian sovereignty.”
DEBKAfile: However, by this document, the Palestinian leader and the king have laid the foundation for a mixed Arab-Palestinian-Israeli framework for managing the shrines holy to Jews (who are not mentioned), Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem. It has opened the door to what many will be perceive as a proposal to internationalize Jerusalem’s sanctuaries, a status affirmed but never honored from 1948 to 1967.
This foundation will not only raise strong Israeli objections but also be challenged by many Palestinians and therefore will have to last a long and tortuous course to survive.
Its importance lies in that the Palestinian Authority has taken the historically momentous step of ceding to the Hashemite throne the custodianship – religious, political, legal, and security – of the Muslim shrines on Temple Mount with authority over the Palestinian Waqf.
It means that henceforth, instead of the Palestinian Authority, Israel will have to engage the Jordanian government in discussions of matters pertaining to Temple Mount, especially hyper-sensitive security arrangements.
This should not be too much of a stretch since in practice, Israeli and Jordanian intelligence have cooperated quietly on such issues for many years.
The Hashemite House comes out of the accord with Palestinian recognition for the first time as the Custodian of the Holy Places of Jerusalem, especially the Mosque of al Aqsa, a title which parallels the Saudi king’s traditional title as Guardian of the Holy Places to Islam in Mecca and Medina.
The degree of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s involvement in Jordanian-Palestinian accord is still to be determined and also whether Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians) were privy to its substance.
The Arab League summit meeting in Doha March 26-27, which debated the dormant Saudi Peace Plan, was certainly not in the picture. Those rulers now have much to chew on.
It may be instructive to cite here the exclusive DEBKAfile report published on Dec. 27, 2012:
A confederation plan for a Palestinian West Bank state and Jordan was the real subject of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent conversation with King Abdullah in Amman,DEBKAfile’s sources reveal – not Syria. This idea has become a focal talking point in Amman, Washington and Palestinian centers. It ties in with the report from US and Jordanian sources that Israel and the Palestinians will resume talks in the spring.
The new Abbas-Abdullah accord appears to be a strong move towards bringing this plan to fruition.
That it is a practical document and not just a declaration is indicated by the detailed definition of the Custodian’s purview appearing in the Jordanian version:
“Recalling the unique religious importance to all Muslims of al-Masjid al-Aqsa with its 144 dunams including include the Qibil Mosque of al-Aqsa, the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock and all its mosques, buildings, walls, courtyards, attached areas over and beneath the ground (a hint at Israeli archeological digs for the Biblical city and Temple)…”
Jordan and Palestine also pledged “all efforts to protect Jerusalem and its Holy Sites from Israeli escalatory Judaisation” – according to another clause in the Petra version.
On at least one very important point the Palestinian and Jordanian communiqués varied significantly:
According to PA Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs Mahmoud Habash, “The agreement confirmed Jordan’s historic role in caring for the religious sanctuaries. It also confirmed Palestinian sovereignty over all of Palestine, including East Jerusalem as its capital.”
However, Article 3:3.1 of the agreement published in full by Jordan puts it this way: “The Government of the State of Palestine, as the expression of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, shall have the right to exercise sovereignty over all parts of its territory, including Jerusalem.
While hailing their accord as a historic breakthrough, the Palestinian and Jordanian leaders will obviousy need to get all parts of their act together before they face Israel.