Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - For the first time in years, Jordan is in control of the administration of the Islamic religious authority on Jerusalem's Temple Mount instead of the Palestinian Authority, signaling a weakening of the PLO and a shift in Jordan's role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new report says.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Shariff, is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has at times been a flashpoint.
Palestinians have rallied to the cause of the Mount dubbing the last nearly four years of violence as the Al-Aksa Intifadah, the uprising named after the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount, Judaism's most holy site and the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina to Muslims, has been under Israeli security control since 1967 when Jerusalem was reunited as a result of the Six-Day war.
However, Israel allowed the Jordanian-administered Wakf Islamic religious authorities to continue running the daily affairs of the site, now occupied by two important Islamic shrines - the Al-Aksa Mosque and golden Dome of the Rock.
In an act of defiance, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat set up shop in eastern Jerusalem and eventually appointed his own mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, and other Palestinians officials over the Wakf, sidelining the Jordanian administration in the mid 1990s.
But according to The Expulsion of the Palestinian Authority from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, a publication of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jordan is back in control of the Wakf, due to a persistent Israeli policy of pushing the PA out of the city.
"Israel has ended the Palestinian Authority's penetration of eastern Jerusalem and its control of the Muslim Wakf on the Temple Mount, restoring Jordanian religious administration of the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound," wrote Dan Diker in the paper, citing Israeli media as well as Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian security and diplomatic sources.
"The expulsion of the Palestinian Authority from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is the culmination of years of activity by Israeli security forces," Diker said.
"Despite only a partial restoration of the status quo in Jerusalem, the return of Jordan's traditionally moderating influence over the Muslim Wakf administration sends an important message to those on both sides of the Jordan River," he said.
Calling the new Jordanian an "important watershed," Dr. Dore Gold, president of the JCPA, said that it shows that the PLO is losing its grip.
"It points to a real trend to the weakening of the PLO presence," Gold said by telephone.
"[Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon is firm in his position that Jerusalem not be re-divided," said Gold.
With Sharon's disengagement plan confined to the Gaza and the northern West Bank, West Bank Palestinians might have to choose in the future to make a choice in the future between linking themselves to Jordan or with what they consider the less desirable Gaza Strip, he said.
While Amman's resumed control of the Muslim Wakf "will not result in Jordan's annexation of the West Bank," Diker said, that coupled with the Gaza disengagement plan, "has perhaps created a new opportunity for a greater cooperation between West Bankers and Jordan."
According to Gold, the Jordanian participation means that the "paradigm" for an Israeli-Palestinian peace "has been reopened."
Jordanian Foreign Ministry officials were not available to comment.
Palestinian legislator Ziad Abu Ziad said that Jordan had always been in control of the Temple Mount and, according to Israeli-Palestinian agreements, the PA was not allowed to have any official presence in Jerusalem.
When pressed Abu Ziad admitted that while "officially speaking" the Temple Mount is under Jordanian control, "practically" it was in Palestinian hands.
According to the Oslo Accords, the PA was not allowed to have any presence in Jerusalem and the status of the city was to be discussed only in permanent status negotiations.
But the PA set up institutions in Jerusalem following the signing of the Oslo Accords and operated the Orient House in eastern Jerusalem as a de facto PA Foreign Ministry, receiving diplomats and leaders from around the world.
Two competing visions
During the Oslo process, the PA was rarely confronted with infractions of the agreements it had made with Israel, but Israeli divisions exacerbated the issue.
"Since the Oslo Accords there were two lines," said Gold. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 on the White House lawn, represented the opening of official relations between Israel and the PLO.
"There was the line adopted by current Labor Party leader Shimon Peres that the Palestinians would have control over religious institutions in Jerusalem," Gold said.
On the other side there was the treaty negotiated by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with the late Jordanian King Hussein, which stated that, "Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem."
When permanent status negotiations begin with the Palestinians, "Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines," it said.
"There were two competing visions," Gold said. When former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in office, he reinforced Rabin's understanding, and made a reduction in the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem a pre-condition to a deal on Hebron.
Gold was involved in negotiating a "Note for the Record," which was attached to the redeployment protocol for Hebron in 1997.
One of the Palestinian obligations in that note stated that Palestinian council offices and governmental activity could only take place in areas where Palestinians had jurisdiction and not in areas where Israel maintained control or in Jerusalem.
Four years later in August 2001 Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, raided and closed the Orient House following a deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
Since then, Israel has arrested and expelled Palestinian security agents in Jerusalem's Old City, Diker said.
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