Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and the police reportedly agreed to Jordan’s demand to increase the number of Waqf staff at the al-Aqsa compound by an additional 50 guards, Kan 11 news reported on Monday, a move that pertains to the delicate status quo at the holy site.
The Waqf, run by Jordan, is an Islamic religious trust which is responsible for overseeing and managing the day-to-day administration of the Temple Mount compound, which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
According to the Kan news report, Jordan made the request in March before the latest round of clashes and tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel then allowed an extra 15 new Waqf staff members, but Jordan has now apparently demanded more.
While Barlev had allegedly agreed to the demand, it was not officially approved by the government, the report stated. Barlev reportedly stipulated that Jordan remove any members from the Waqf staff who have expressed support for Hamas.
In a statement on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Jordan did, in fact, ask to "increase the Waqf presence on the Temple Mount by 50 guards but Israel did not find it appropriate to accede to the request."
"In practice: Six Hamas-backed Waqf guards were removed from the Temple Mount, and 12 new Waqf positions were manned – all within the existing standards, without any increase," Bennett said. "There is no change or new development in the situation on the Temple Mount - Israel's sovereignty has been preserved."
He doubled down on a statement earlier this week that Israel makes decisions regarding the Temple Mount "out of considerations of sovereignty, freedom of religion and security, and not out of pressure from foreign or political factors."
Maintaining a status quo on the Temple Mount not only impacts security concerns, but has political implications for Bennett’s government. Ra’am, the Islamist party led by Mansour Abbas, has offered its conditioned support for the coalition – based on Israel’s acceptance of Jordanian demands for the Temple Mount. If Bennett’s government fails to agree to those terms, Abbas could collapse the coalition.
Knesset Member Amichai Chikli, who was recently declared a defector by Bennett’s Yamina party, slammed the government for “giving up our sovereignty over the Temple Mount in return for stability of the coalition.”
“A strategic collapse of Zionism in exchange for political survival, disaster,” he said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who arrived in the U.S. last week, is expected to meet with President Joe Biden and other officials in Washington D.C. On Monday, he met Christian leaders in New York, where he reiterated the importance of Jordanian custodianship of Jerusalem's holy sites.
“The King reiterated that the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem is an honor and a responsibility that helps preserve the unity of all churches, and – more importantly – unity among the Muslim and Christian communities,” read a statement from the royal court. “The King reaffirmed Jordan’s commitment to the principles of interfaith harmony and dialogue, as well as moderation and openness, underscoring the promotion of peace and stability as pillars of Jordan’s foreign policy.”
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.