Jordan and PLO in tussle over Jerusalem: Rabin hails accord as 'closest thing to peace treaty' - Palestinians see agreement as threat to claim on capital

KING Hussein of Jordan and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, are locked in a struggle for power over the issue of Jerusalem, following Israel's decision to boost Jordan's role in future negotiations on the city's status.

The Jerusalem clauses in the Israeli-Jordanian declaration, signed in Washington on Monday, have caused dismay among many Palestinians who believe that the deal is a Jordanian-Israeli conspiracy, designed to undermine the PLO's chances of winning East Jerusalem as its capital, and, thereby, also undermining the PLO's chances of creating a Palestinian state.

The clauses have caused concern among some Israeli strategists, who fear that the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, may have underestimated the level of bitterness between Mr Arafat and King Hussein, which could erupt, causing untold damage to the delicate peace process.

In recent months eyes have focused on the minutiae of the Gaza-Jericho plan. But the Jerusalem question has all the time been looming like an increasingly dark cloud over the future of the peace process. Israel claims all Jerusalem is its sovereign land, while the Palestinians claim the Arab east side as their capital.

In theory Jerusalem should not be discussed until talks on the final status of the occupied territories begin in two years' time. In fact, political power-play over control of the city began long ago. Israel is well ahead in the game, after speeding up Jewish settlement on Arab lands and strangling Palestinian institutions on the Arab east side.

In the new Israeli-Jordanian declaration, Israel hopes to have played another ace by formally recognising Jordan's guardianship of Jerusalem's Muslim sites for the first time. Until now, Jordan's custodian role, since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when Israel seized the east side of the city from King Hussein's Arab Legion, has only been recognised by Israel de facto. Furthermore, Israel has promised that Jordan will be given 'high priority' when talks on the final status of the city begin.

For Israel, King Hussein is an infinitely preferable negotiating partner on the issue of Jerusalem than Mr Arafat, because the King's only stated concern is with preserving East Jerusalem as a Muslim religious capital. Yesterday in Washington he tried to defuse the row by stating: 'My religious faith demands that sovereignty over the holy places in Jerusalem reside with God and God alone.'

King Hussein has no wish to get involved in the far more painful debate over political status. It was no coincidence that Israeli hardliners such as Ehud Olmert, mayor of Jerusalem, welcomed the Israeli deal with Jordan, in the hope that the PLO's political claim will now be sidelined.

For King Hussein the declaration also serves a vital purpose. It enhances the Hashemite claim as supreme saviour of Islam's third holiest site - the Haram al-Sharif - thereby boosting his standing in the Arab world, and scoring points over Saudi Arabia's King Fahd.

'Arafat represents the sovereign claim to Jerusalem. The King represents the religious claim,' said Dori Gold, a leading Israeli analyst at the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies. 'The struggle between the PLO and Jordan will be the main drama of forthcoming months. Book your seat now.'

The row which has now broken out in public over the control of the Muslim holy sites has been simmering ever since the signing of the Oslo peace accords. Mr Arafat signalled last October that he intended to press for the return to Jerusalem of the Awqaf, the Muslim sites administration based in Amman. It was also reported last autumn that Hassan Thaboub, chairman of the West Bank Islamic Council, favoured bringing the holy sites under PLO control, which angered Amman.

At the same time the King made a series of loaded speeches proclaiming that sovereignty of the holy sites belonged only to God. He also speeded restoration of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, which he paid for out of his own pocket, and which now dominates the Jerusalem skyline as a golden symbol of Hashemite control.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy