King Abdullah’s next visit to Washington: implications for Jerusalem
JNS.org – US President Joe Biden may have little appetite for restoring Israeli-Palestinian peace, but he seems determined to prevent some third parties from exploiting the regional impasse to their advantage. This appears to be one of the messages contained in Washington’s decision to ensure that King Abdullah of Jordan will be the first The Arab leader will visit the White House since Biden took office.
This message takes on added importance given the recent opening of legal proceedings in Amman against two senior Jordanian officials accused of sedition and conspiracy with former Crown Prince Hamza bin Hussein, Abdullah’s half-brother, to destabilize the monarchy. The meaning of the message is further reinforced at a time when various Muslim-majority states are in competition for religious soft power in the Muslim world.
The alleged conspiracy involving Prince Hamza, along with Saudi efforts to protect one of the defendants, Bassam Awadallah, have refocused attention on a low-profile and long-standing Saudi effort to include the Gulf Kingdom in the administration of the United Arab Emirates. Temple Mount in Jerusalem (known to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif), which is considered the third holiest site in Islam.
Awadallah, who is a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is a former head of King Abdullah’s court and has also served as Jordanian finance minister.
The Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, is also home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. According to Jewish belief, the Temple Mount is where the divine presence of God is most fully manifested. For this reason, Jews around the world look to the Temple Mount during prayer.
From the perspective of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other interested Muslim parties, Jerusalem is the crown jewel in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam. For much of the last century, the administration of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has been entrusted to an endowment controlled by the Jordanian government.
Saudi Arabia bases its claim to leadership of the Muslim world on its custody of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. The Saudi claim, at a time when it is competing for religious soft power, would be greatly strengthened by participation in the Temple Mount administration.
The stakes in the struggle for control of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem are high. For the Saud family in power in Riyadh, it is about strengthening its religious claim to rule the Muslim world. For Jordan and its Hashemite monarchs, who, unlike the Saud, trace their ancestors back to the Prophet Muhammad, it is about much more than religious power. With Palestinians making up more than 40% of the Jordanian population, maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem – which should be the capital of a future Palestinian state by most Palestinians – is essential to ensure the regime’s survival.
Although he has not been charged, Prince Hamza has been under lodge arrest since April. That month, Awadallah and the second defendant, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a businessman and distant cousin of King Abdullah, were arrested.
Riyadh has fueled suspicion of a Saudi connection conspiracy by allegedly mounting a concerted effort when the plot was first exposed to persuade King Abdullah to allow Awadallah, a Jordanian, American and Saudi national, into exile in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia sent its Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Intelligence Chief Khalid bin Ali Al Humaidan and a senior official in Prince Mohammad’s office in Jordan, apparently with the aim of escorting Awadallah out of from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Jordan rejected the kingdom’s request to release Awadallah from Saudi custody, a move that was supported by President Biden and CIA Director William Burns.
Riyadh has denied wanting Awadallah to go into exile in the kingdom. Saudi officials say visits to Jordan by senior officials were intended to express support for the Jordanian monarch.
Categorically denying any Saudi association with the Jordanian plot, Ali Shihabi, a Middle East analyst who often reflects Saudi positions, tweeted: “The only Saudi ‘angle’ is Awadallah who also has Saudi nationality and is immensely unpopular in Jordan. . He is mentioned in the leaks as having been asked for Saudi help by Hamza. No assistance was provided in any form and there is no evidence to support such claims. “
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said during a visit to Washington in May that efforts to expand the administration of Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount were a Red line. King Abdullah reiterated Jordan’s rejection of any attempt to involve third parties in the administration during a subsequent visit to Amman by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Relations between Jordan and Saudi Arabia have fluctuated. The Saudis were upset by King Abdullah’s staunch rejection of former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jordan has also refused to consider the president’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
King Abdullah suspected former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of favoring a Saudi role in the administration of Muslim sites on the Temple Mount. He is unsure of Netanyahu’s successor, Naftali Bennett, who rejects the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and supports Israeli settlement activity.
Jordanian officials denied reports in the pro-Netanyahu party last year Israel Hayom citing Saudi diplomats as saying Jordan was willing to grant Saudi Arabia observer status in the endowment administering the Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount.
Saudi Arabia has not officially declared its desire to wrest control of the Temple Mount from Jordan, but Saudi interest is evident in the various measures the country has taken in recent years.
Bolstering the kingdom’s financial might, Saudi King Salman said at an Arab summit in Dhahran in April 2018 that he was make a donation $ 150 million to support Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. The donation was intended in part to counter legacy by Turkey, a rival competitor for Muslim religious soft power, to Islamic organizations in Jerusalem, as well as Turkish efforts to acquire real estate in the city.
Saudi Arabia has since clashed with Jordan in Arab forums over Jordan’s sole control over the administration of the Jerusalem sites and has reportedly courted Palestinian clerics.
The risk for Saudi Arabia is that an expansion of the administration of the Jerusalem sites could rekindle latent suggestions that the tutelage of Mecca and Medina should also be internationalized. This proposal, often put forward by Iran, shivers the backs of the Saudis.
Write in Haaretz in 2019, Malik Dahlan, an international lawyer of Saudi origin who is said to be close to Prince Hamza, suggested that the Trump plan for Israel and the Palestinians could work if in the first phase “an agreement on the governance of Jerusalem” is reached. “This Jerusalem-first approach would involve the idea of ’integrative internationalization’, which, incidentally, I also advocate for Mecca and Medina,” Malik wrote. There is no indication that Prince Hamza shares Malik’s views on Saudi holy sites.
Dr James M. Dorsey, Senior Non-Resident Associate at the BESA Center, is Principal Investigator at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Co-Director of the Institute for Fan Culture, University of Würzburg .
This article was first published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.