JERUSALEM: Jordan’s King Abdullah II offered support to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas during a rare visit Monday to the occupied West Bank following tensions with Israel over a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.
Abdullah’s first trip to the West Bank in five years was seen as a message to Israel and the United States over the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the stalled peace process.
It came less than two weeks after the end of a standoff at the holy site over new security measures, including metal detectors, imposed by Israel following an attack that killed two policemen.
Abdullah stressed to Abbas “the full Jordanian support for the legitimate rights of its brothers the Palestinian people and support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem”, a statement from Jordan’s royal palace said.
He backed the need to protect Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, warning Israeli attempts to change the status quo — under which Jordan is custodian of the site and Jewish prayer is forbidden — “would have negative consequences for the whole region”.
The Al-Aqsa compound is also holy to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount as it is believed to be on the site of the first and second Jewish Temples, the latter of which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Abdullah also “called for the commitment of US President Donald Trump to work to realise peace between Palestinians and Israelis”.
The king flew by helicopter to Ramallah and a red carpet welcome from Abbas. He returned to Jordan after a meeting that lasted around an hour and a half. The king did not meet any Israeli officials.
Jordan reacted angrily last month to the new security measures at the mosque compound, which sparked several days of protests and clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters that Abbas and Abdullah on Monday discussed “direct Israeli attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque”.
Tensions were exacerbated on July 23 when an Israeli security guard shot dead two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy compound in Amman.
One of the two men attacked the Israeli with a screwdriver, and the other was apparently shot dead by accident, Israeli officials said.
The crisis eased on July 27 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the removal of the metal detectors. He has also promised to investigate the embassy incident.
Abdullah’s visit was seen by analysts as a show of support for Abbas, who has been isolated by Israel over his response to the Al-Aqsa row.
‘Jerusalem is victorious’
The mosque compound is in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.
The 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan recognises Amman’s special status as official custodian of Jerusalem’s holy Muslim sites.
About half of Jordan’s 9.5 million citizens are of Palestinian origin.
Netanyahu’s removal of the metal detectors was seen by Palestinians as a victory.
At Abbas’s headquarters a large banner displayed a picture of the Al-Aqsa compound with the slogan “Jerusalem is victorious”.
“It appears that King Abdullah wants to show through his visit that he stands with the Palestinian people in the battle for Jerusalem,” Palestinian political analyst Abdel Majid Sweilem told AFP.
In a statement on the official state news agency Petra, the king was quoted as saying that without Jordanian “custodianship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago”.
During the crisis over the metal detectors, 82-year-old Abbas suspended security coordination with Israel, and this has remained suspended despite their removal.
The decision sparked Israeli anger, with accusations he was encouraging violence.
“This visit sends a message from his majesty that he is willing to contribute to removing president Abbas’s isolation following his decision to stop the security coordination with Israel,” Samir Awad, politics professor at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank, told AFP.
In January, US President Donald Trump came to power promising to push Israelis and Palestinians towards a peace deal, raising brief hopes among Palestinians that his unconventional approach could achieve results.
But Palestinians have become increasingly frustrated by what they see as his negotiating team’s one-sided approach.
Trump’s team has yet to publicly commit to the two-state solution, the idea of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel that has been the basis of decades of international consensus.
Malki said Abbas and Abdullah had agreed that for any political process to move forward “there must be recognition of the principle of a two-state solution”.