Jordan has stepped up efforts to persuade Israel to preserve Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque’s ancient status quo and avoid violent clashes that could escalate the crisis, according to Jordanian officials and Western diplomats.
Jordan has informed Washington that it was ready to discuss the problem with Israel when the holy month of Ramadan ended next week, according to the officials. The goal would be to determine what steps Israel could take to restore the mosque’s conditions to those of 22 years ago.
Jordan accuses Israel of having gradually changed restrictions on worship at the mosque since 2000.
The new diplomatic effort is “to deal with the roots of the tension and ensure that matters don’t explode again,” a Jordanian official who requested anonymity said, adding that Washington had recently been given a paper that “clearly” stated the kingdom’s position.
Clashes over the past two weeks between Palestinians and Israeli police at the mosque compound have stoked Arab anger and international concern about a slide back to a wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A tinder-box for Israeli-Arab antagonism, the compound, known as the Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount and regard it as the holiest site in Judaism.
A Western diplomat said Jordan’s proposal did not include convening a joint committee with Israel concerning Muslim and Christian shrines in the Old City of Jerusalem. Several Israeli media outlets said it did, but Jordan is unwilling to concede a such a formal role for Israel.
Jordan, whose ruling Hashemite family has custodianship of the Muslim and Christian sites, says that since 2000 Israel has undermined a centuries-old tradition under which non-Muslims do not worship in the mosque compound.
Amman told Washington that Israel should end restrictions on staffing of Jordan’s religious Waqf administration and let it manage all visits by non-Muslims and prevent worship by them, the sources said.
Israel denies accusations by Jordan and Arab states it has tried to change the status quo of Muslim holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, which it occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It also says it is enforcing a long-standing ban on Jewish prayer at the compound.
Jordan says Israel is restricting access by Muslim worshippers and not restraining Israeli far-right nationalists whose rituals violate the former status quo and, from an Islamic point of view, desecrate the holy site.
“Jordan is continuing its contacts directly with the Israelis and Washington and other international parties to demand that Israel respects the historic situation that existed before 2000,” another Jordanian official said.
On Friday, Israel banned non-Muslim visits until the end of Ramadan. This was a “good step to respecting the status quo and easing tensions and restoring calm,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Reuters.