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US Recognition of Jordan’s Custodianship at Al-Aqsa an Important Signal, Experts Say

US President Joe Biden told Jordan’s King Abdullah that his administration supports Jordanian custodianship over Islamic holy places in Jerusalem.

“The President affirmed his strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and cited the need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The president also recognized the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem,” according to a readout of Friday’s meeting between the two leaders in Washington issued by the White House.

The statement contradicts Israel’s government. “All decisions regarding the Temple Mount and Jerusalem will be made by the Israeli government, which holds sovereignty over the city, without any foreign considerations,” Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said last week, after announcing that he had denied a request by Jordan to increase the staff of the Waqf, the Islamic religious organization that oversees the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Osama Sharif, a veteran Jordanian journalist and political commentator, told The Media Line that Biden’s statement was an important signal.

“In addition to underlining the depth of the strategic relationship between the two countries, for the king it was important that President Biden reiterated publicly US support for Jordan’s custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem at a time when Israel is challenging this role and is attempting to alter the historic status quo there as we have seen during the month of Ramadan,” he said.

President Biden has met the king twice since his inauguration, which is more than any other Middle East leader. The king last visited the White House ten months ago.

Biden is sending a strong message to Israel and the Bennett government that he is unhappy with many of its actions of late, especially in Jerusalem, and that the US is standing firm by Jordan and committed to Jordan’s special role of custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem

Mofid Deak, a former US diplomat now living in Jordan, told the Media Line that the visit of the king is important in and of itself.

“It signifies the closeness of the relationship between the Biden administration and Jordan under the leadership of King Abdullah. It’s worth noting that while Biden has intentionally avoided meeting with other Arab leaders, sending a distinctly clear message of tensions between the administration and these countries over a variety of issues, Biden has met twice with the king since he became president in the early ’21. Also, by meeting with the king for the second time, Biden is sending a strong message to Israel and the Bennett government that he is unhappy with many of its actions of late, especially in Jerusalem, and that the US is standing firm by Jordan and committed to Jordan’s special role of custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem,” Deak said.

Tagreed Odeh, a political scientist in Jordan, told The Media Line that the escalation of violence in Palestinian territories and the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh show the need for all parties to sit together for talks at the negotiating table

“The US has an important role in stopping the unilateral Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territories. America has a decisive role in this issue and the Biden administration can push for a mechanism that will contribute to the end of the violence and the start of serious peace talks that can lead to ensuring Palestinians will be able to establish their own state on the 4th of June 1967 area with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

The visit followed a visit to the US with a packed itinerary that included meetings in Washington with members of the US Congress from both parties and an earlier meeting with top Christian leaders in New York.

Kyle Cristofalo, senior director of Advocacy and Government Relations for Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), who set up the meeting with twenty-three senior church leaders from all US denominations, told The Media Line that the meeting centered on the importance of building up trust, especially between members of different faiths. He said that US Christian leaders affirmed the commitment of their respective communities to work for interfaith harmony and justice for all who live in the Holy Land.

Cristofalo applauded Jordan’s efforts to protect holy sites for Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem and said that church leaders were deeply grieved by the ongoing assaults against the status quo at those places.

“The daily violations of human rights and religious freedom against Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land must stop. So too must the occupation. We look forward to continuing to work with His Majesty in the service of a future in which all Palestinians and Israelis can flourish,” he told The Media Line.

Rev Dr. A Roy Medley, general secretary emeritus of the American Baptist Churches, told The Media Line that the king was well received and thanked for Jordan’s historic role in seeking peace in the Middle East.

“I expressed on behalf of Baptists our dismay when religion is weaponized to demean, divide and destroy; stated our concern for the Christian community in the region; and affirmed our commitment as Baptists to live in peace with our neighbors, noting the example of Baptists in Lebanon, who, though small in number, have been in the forefront of welcoming Syrian refugees who are predominantly Muslim, and the role of Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine.”

In addition to Middle East issues, the king and Biden talked about ways that the US could support Jordan.

“The leaders discussed the political and economic benefits of further regional integration in infrastructure, energy, water, and climate projects, with Jordan a critical hub for such cooperation and investment. They agreed to remain in regular touch and further enhance the historic ties between our countries,” the White House said.

Jordan has been pushing to become a regional center for support to countries in developing a working climate change strategy including fighting deforestation and compensating regional countries for programs that aim at lessening the footprint of the negative effects of the use of fossil fuels.