The Temple Mount crisis appears to be subsiding. Following further security concessions by the Israeli government, Palestinian religious leaders called for normal prayer services to resume at al-Aqsa mosque last Thursday. Despite some additional clashes over the weekend in Gaza and the West Bank, the return of thousands of worshippers for Friday prayers passed uneventfully in Jerusalem despite a temporary ban on men under 50 from entering the site. The mood in Jerusalem, previously tense, is now closer to Palestinian jubilation. But across the border in Jordan the crisis will continue to cause headaches, as The Times of Israel reports:
Hundreds of Jordanians held a protest near the Israeli embassy in Amman on Friday, calling on the government to shut it down and cancel the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Emerging from a nearby mosque following prayers, the protesters chanted “Death to Israel” and “No Zionist embassy on Jordanian soil,” an AFP correspondent said.
The protesters were also demanding justice for two Jordanian nationals killed by an Israeli embassy worker this week, including a 17-year-old who authorities said attacked the guard with a screwdriver.
The incident involving the security guard created an unusually high-level rift between Israel and Jordan. King Abdullah publicly criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu after the guard was given a warm reception home, including a photo op with Netanyahu:
“The Israeli prime minister is required to honor his responsibilities and take the necessary legal measures to ensure that the killer is tried and justice is served, rather than exhibiting political showmanship in dealing with this crime to score personal political points.”
Abdullah’s comment and the Amman protests point to one of the chief lessons from this crisis. Israel’s Arab allies in Jordan and Egypt may be autocratic, but their leaders still have to account for the popular hatred of Israel that predominates in both countries. We noted last week that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ acceptance and even incitement of violence might be partly motivated by a desire to undermine Israel’s increasingly close relations with the other Arab states, particularly in the Persian Gulf. The Gulf motivation appears to have worked both ways, with Abbas trying to influence the Gulf and the Gulf encouraging Netanyahu to back down. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman reportedly sent a message via the U.S. to Netanyahu and claims a role in ending the crisis. Though the security concessions were recommended by all of the Israeli security services except the police, the diplomatic pressure on Netanyahu to concede the issue appears to have been significant in preventing a violent escalation.
As the President of a shambolic pseudo-state, Abbas has relatively few levers of power. His governance is corrupt by design, as his main domestic responsibility is to be a font of money (fully half of the PA budget is now designated to the families of “martyrs.”) But one thing he can still lord over the Israelis is an ability to provoke popular outrage across the Arab and Muslim world. Israel’s peace agreement with Jordan and Egypt has often been described as a “cold peace”, in which Israel is reviled even by those who accept the strategic benefits of peace. Those hoping for closer relations between Israel and the Gulf Arab states should remember that popular rage over the Palestinian issue will continue to hamper cooperation, even if the leaders of those states would prefer to work with Israel rather than deal with endless Palestinian dysfunction.