In connection with the yet-to-be-released White House peace proposal, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been pressuring King Abdullah of Jordan to relinquish his custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque, and other Islamic holy sites in Israel, to the House of Saud. They have in return offered to put billions of dollars toward solving the kingdom’s severe economic and fiscal problems. But Abdullah has publicly indicated his unwillingness to surrender his position, and Nadav Shragai argues that it would be to Israel’s detriment if he did:
[T]he Jordanian (and Israeli) security apparatuses think that any change to the king of Jordan’s guardianship over the Temple Mount will shake up his rule, and possibly lead to his downfall. The guardianship, which Jordan has held since 1924, is an insurance policy for Jordan. For years, the Jordanian government has rested on the loyalty of the Bedouin and the rest of the tribes to the royal family. But they make up less than half of Jordan’s population, while the Palestinian majority and the Muslim Brotherhood are a constant source of concern. For Jordan, maintaining “custody” of al-Aqsa means the royal family will stay in power.
The historic 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan anchored Jordan’s role as guardian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel honored that status, in part because of the two nations’ shared security, intelligence, and economic interests. . . . Jordan is truly horrified at the U.S. suggestion—or demand—that it forgo its stewardship of al-Aqsa or split it with the Saudis. Jordan is underscoring its public refusal by taking a series of diplomatic steps designed to make it clear to both Israel and to the U.S. that it has options other than the Jerusalem-Washington axis.
The first step was for the Jordanians to align themselves with the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas in rejecting Donald Trump’s peace proposal [before it has even been released]. Then, Jordan agreed for the first time to include representatives of the PA in the Islamic waqf, the official Jordanian government body that oversees religious affairs on the Temple Mount. . . . Jordan also opened up the waqf to the Fatah movement, to Sheikh Ikrama Sabri—the former mufti of Jerusalem who is currently identified with Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood—as well as to the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement [an Israeli-Arab Islamist group]. All these were until very recently competitors with Jordan for hegemony over the Temple Mount.
Since April, a few articles have [even] been published in the Jordanian press calling for a new intifada in the West Bank as a way of thwarting the deal. . . . However, we must remember that Abdullah is a pragmatist, and there are signs that he is looking for a compromise that will allow him to appear as if he opposes the Trump plan but actually to accept some of its points. By doing so, he hopes to keep his key status among the moderate nations of the Middle East and to continue enjoying U.S. economic aid, not to mention maintaining his stewardship of al-Aqsa.