Peace deal heralds battle for holy city

The treaty to be signed this week between Jordan and Israel may herald reconciliation between the two neighbours, but could also lead to a war over the future of Jerusalem.

Under the agreement, Israel recognises Jordan's claim to be custodian over Jerusalem's Islamic holy sites, underpinning the Hashemites' right to a special role in deciding the city's future status. The move, say Palestinians, is a deliberate ploy by Israel and Jordan to divide and rule Jerusalem, as they have a mutual interest in blocking Palestinian hopes of winning Arab east Jerusalem as a future capital.

These fears are causing growing anger and depair among Palestinians throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank and look certain to spur militancy.

Islamic militants of Hamas have often warned that their fiercest war will be waged over Jerusalem. Israeli security forces last night said they had rounded up dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank following Wednesday's attack on a bus in Tel Aviv.

Although Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, appears outflanked by the Israeli-Jordanian move, he has some powerful political weapons with which to shore up his Jerusalem claims, and he has recently started to use them. As a result Mr Arafat and King Hussein have already become locked in a battle of wills.

Mr Arafat has forged ahead with his claim to take over the running of Jerusalem's holy sites by setting up a religious ministry. He is also appealing to Palestinians responsible for running holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank to give up their ties with Amman and show their loyalty to the PLO.

Jerusalem's religious leaders are angry that King Hussein appears to be dividing the Palestinian camp and thereby playing into the hands of the Israelis. Israel claims Jerusalem must remain united for ever under Israeli sovereignty, while the Palestinians demand east Jerusalem as their capital.

King Hussein has played down Arab political claims in the city in order to shore up his religious role, accepting only limited quasi-sovereignty over the holy sites. For Israel, therefore, King Hussein makes a far preferable partner in the Jerusalem negotiations.

On historic, religious and personal grounds, the Hashemites have for decades claimed an administrative and spiritual authority over the Jerusalem holy sites, namely al- Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Haram al- Sharif - or the Holy Sanctuary - which sits above the Jewish Temple Mount.

Jordan has also maintained an authority over the other Islamic sites in the West Bank.

King Hussein believes deeply that this role is rightfully his, as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The king also knows that without his role in Jerusalem, his position in the Arab world would be severely diminished.

The Islamic waqf, or ministry of religious endowments, was based in Amman during the years of Jordanian rule in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and has remained there since the 1967 Israeli occupation. A month ago Mr Arafat threw down the gauntlet to King Hussein by appointing his own religious minister, Hassan Tahboub, and setting up a Palestinian waqf. Two weeks ago he went further by appointing his own grand mufti for the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In an apparant compromise, King Hussein announced that he would relinquish his right to control the sites in the West Bank and stopped paying the salaries of the 1,230 Muslim staff at the West Bank sites and religious courts. However, the king insisted he would maintain his custodial role in Jerusalem, and pay the salaries of the 540 waqf employees.

Next month Mr Arafat intends to start paying the salaries of the Jerusalem employees and the bills for every Islamic institution, thereby co- opting Jordan's administrative apparatus in the city. Palestinian sources say King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has promised to foot the dollars 12m ( pounds 7.5m) bill.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cabinet Maker / Joiner

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones