Last Friday, thousands of Palestinian protestors stormed the Gate of Mercy, located in the northeastern part of the Temple Mount, and forced it open. This entrance, known to Christians as the Golden Gate, had been sealed by Israel in 2003 because of illegal activities conducted there by a Hamas-linked group. On Sunday, Israeli police arrested two officials of the waqf, the Jordanian body that administers Muslim holy sites in Israel, for their role in fomenting the disturbances. (They were subsequently released.) Yoni Ben Menachem believes Jordan is behind the riots and that it wishes to take control of the compound just inside the gate; he offers two possible rationales:
According to the 1994 peace agreement between Jordan’s King Hussein and Israel, Jordan is the guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. King Abdullah of Jordan is afraid he might lose this status as a result of [the Trump administration’s expected Israel-Palestinian peace proposal]. The effort to take control of the Temple Mount is a message to the U.S. president and the Israeli government showing that Jordan will not agree to any harm being done to its status [vis-à-vis Jerusalem].
Jordan [may also fear] that Israel will take it by surprise and establish a synagogue near the Gate of Mercy as the publication of the Trump deal draws closer, in order to create facts on the ground. Jordan and the Palestinians seek to limit the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. . . . Therefore, King Abdullah has decided to preempt Israel and to establish [his own] facts on the ground. His main concern is that it will be alleged that while the Hashemite Kingdom was serving as guardian of the mosque of al-Aqsa, Israel managed to take physical hold of it. That would go down in Muslim history as an eternal disgrace and would severely damage the image of the Hashemite dynasty. . . .
Officials of the Islamic waqf have begun cleaning out the area and preparing it for regular prayer services. The waqf council announced that it would assign an imam to the new prayer room, and it will prepare a program of renovations for the building. Taking control of the Gate of Mercy compound is burned within Palestinian consciousness as a great triumph against Israel in the struggle for control of the Temple Mount, and a continuation of the victory in the battle against the metal detectors erected at the gates to the Temple Mount in July 2017.
There is concern in Israel that the new waqf council will now turn the Gate of Mercy into a giant house of prayer, which is what the [now-banned] northern branch of the Islamic Movement did with [the area underneath the Temple Mount known as] Solomon’s Stables in 1996. [According to] the former head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, . . . considerable damage had been done to Jewish archaeological relics from the First Temple era during the digging.