Aqsa Mosque Dispute Strains Israeli-Jordanian Alliance

Aqsa Mosque Dispute Strains Israeli-Jordanian Alliance

JERUSALEM — If Israel had been hoping that Jordan, a neighbor and important regional ally, would help defuse the bitter opposition to Israel’s placement of metal detectors at entrances to the Aqsa Mosque compound, the opposite has happened.

First, Jordan took a hard line against the metal detectors, calling for their removal. Then a deadly confrontation in the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman on Sunday night created a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Jordan, the custodian of the Aqsa shrine in Jerusalem.

Lifting a nightlong news blackout on the attack, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Monday morning that a Jordanian worker who had come to help replace furniture stabbed an Israeli security officer with a screwdriver. The security officer, who was slightly wounded, “defended himself,” the ministry said, without mentioning how.

The Jordanian worker was shot dead, according to Jordan’s Public Security Directorate, and the Jordanian landlord of the embassy’s residential quarters, a doctor who had accompanied the worker, was also hit and later died of his wounds.

Both sides have been sparing with words. Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, described the event as a “shooting incident” and made no immediate mention of the stabbing.

The event quickly turned into a charged, if discreet, showdown over diplomatic immunity, with Jordan demanding to question the Israeli security guard and barring him from leaving the country, according to local news reports. Israeli officials refused to comment explicitly on the dispute, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to it in public remarks.

“I assured the security guard that we will see to bringing him back to Israel; we have experience in this,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the start of his meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili of Georgia. Mr. Netanyahu said Israel was in contact with security and government officials in Amman “on all levels, in order to bring the incident to a close as quickly as possible.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the security officer had immunity from investigation and imprisonment under the terms of the Vienna Convention.

“We’ve seen examples where drivers have even killed people by running them over and were not arrested, but were given the opportunity to leave the country,” said Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the United States from Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party. “I expect Jordan to act in accordance with international law.”

The Jordanian worker who was killed was identified as Mohammad Jawawdah, 16. His father, Zakaria Jawawdah, told Reuters, “My son was not a troublemaker or a terrorist, and he did not belong to any political parties.”

This latest round of diplomatic wrangling and bloodshed began with a brazen attack on the morning of July 14, when three armed Arab citizens of Israel emerged from Al Aqsa Mosque and fatally shot two Israeli Druze police officers who were guarding the compound. Mr. Netanyahu quickly ordered metal detectors and cameras placed at entrances to the holy site, which is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Palestinian Muslims have since refused to enter the esplanade, praying in protest outside.

Since the metal detectors went up, three members of an Israeli family were stabbed to death in an attack at their home in a West Bank settlement and four Palestinians have been killed in clashes with security forces in and around Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

The metal detectors have become a symbol of the broader struggle over ownership and control of the contested compound.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with its holy sites, from Jordan in the 1967 war, and annexed the area in a move that was never internationally recognized. Under the delicate arrangements that have governed the administration of the site for decades, Jordan maintains a special role, reaffirmed in its peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Even before the deadly confrontation in the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman, Jordan — whose population includes many people with Palestinian roots — had called for an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers and had urged Israel to respect the historical status of the holy site, rescind unilateral moves and remove the metal detectors.

Now, Israeli analysts say, the two countries will to find a solution that will not be seen as rewarding violence, from Israel’s perspective, but placate the angry Jordanian public.

“The basic interest of both countries is to have this resolved effectively,” said Eran Lerman, a former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, in a conference call with reporters. “I’m not sure there’s a simple way out now that does not look like retreat in the face of violence and terror.”

Still, given Jordan’s special status regarding the Jerusalem holy site, it is possible that a solution for the diplomatic crisis could help ease the Al Aqsa crisis at the same time. Israel’s security cabinet, which met late into Sunday night, was scheduled to meet again on Monday night for further discussions about resolving the imbroglio.

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