Control of the Gate of Mercy (Golden Gate, Shaar Harachamim in Hebrew, Bab el Rahma in Arabic) on the Temple Mount has fallen into the hands of Jordan like a ripe fruit as the publication of the President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” approaches.

Jordan is using Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount to emphasize its special role there as the guardian of the holy sites in accordance with the peace agreement with Israel in 1994.

Muslims praying at the Golden Gate
Muslims praying at the Golden Gate (Bab al Rahma) site. (Arab press)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a message to Jordan more than a week ago, asking that the Muslim Waqf council be instructed to close the Gate of Mercy building before it is forcibly closed by the police. But the Jordanian government has ignored the message and has taken a firm stand to leave the Gate of Mercy building open.

The Jordanian Waqf office announced on March 3, 2019, that the Gate of Mercy is an integral part of the Al-Aqsa mosque and is not subject to negotiations, division, or partnership.

In the announcement, it stated that Israel’s measures against the Waqf council in Jerusalem are a “guided strike” and a direct blow against Jordanian guardianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Until now, the Jerusalem police has avoided implementing the prime minister’s instruction to close the Gate of Mercy building on the Temple Mount. Instead, it has been busy in recent days with distancing Muslim women belonging to the Al-Murabitat organization and the guards of the Islamic Waqf from the Temple Mount, who are clashing with the police and Israeli citizens visiting the Temple Mount and were involved in taking control of the Gate of Mercy compound toward the end of February 2019.

On March 3, 2019, the Israeli police extended its activities and delivered restraining orders distancing from the Temple Mount the following officials: Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, chairman of the Waqf; Sheikh Najeh Bkerat, vice director of the Waqf; Nasser Kos, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club; and Arafat Najib, one of the Waqf guards.

Khatam Abdel Khader, a senior Fatah official and member of the Waqf, and Dr. Mahdi Abd Al-Hadi, head of the Passia Institute, who is also part of the Waqf, were summoned to the police for questioning as a result of their involvement in the takeover of the Gate of Mercy. After being interrogated for seven hours, they were banned from entering the Temple Mount for seven days.

Israeli police officials inspect the Golden Gate chamber
Senior Israeli police officials inspect the Golden Gate chamber on February 27, 2019 (Jordanian press)

The Waqf guards at the Al-Aqsa mosque issued a statement on March 3, 2019, warning that Israel was working to sabotage the achievement of opening the Gate of Mercy on the Temple Mount. In their announcement, they stated that up until now, the police had arrested 14 Waqf guards that had been involved in the opening of the Gate of Mercy and had removed them from the Temple Mount for various periods. This announcement called upon the Palestinian public to demonstrate on the Temple Mount starting on Friday (March 8, 2019).

Jordanian Minister of Islamic Affairs and Holy Sites, Abdul Nasser Musa Abu al-Basal, stated that the decision to remove Waqf leaders Sheikh Salhab and Sheikh Bkerat from the Temple Mount and to summon two additional Waqf members for questioning was “forbidden conduct and a new escalation, the purpose of which is to silence the activities of the Waqf and intimidate the members of the Waqf council, which was recently reassembled by the Jordanian government.”

Abdul Nasser Musa Abu al-Basal
Jordanian Minister Abdul Nasser Musa Abu al-Basal (Jordan Government)

Jordan’s Official Position

Jordan first reacted to the takeover of the Gate of Mercy at the end of February, when Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi sent an initial message to Israel regarding Jordan’s position on the issue.

Safadi explained that the Gate of Mercy on the Temple Mount would not close, stating, “Jordan will put all of its efforts into maintaining freedom of entry and exit to the Temple Mount and leaving all of the Gates to the Temple Mount open, including the Gate of Mercy.”

If the Israeli government is determined to restore the situation on the Temple Mount to what it was previously, the more time that passes, the harder this will be. The Waqf is determining the facts on the ground, and the Jordanian government is giving its full support.

Every clash with Israel on this issue serves the political interests of Jordan by highlighting its role on the Temple Mount and gaining Arab and international support for its position.

According to political sources in Jerusalem, Israel is not interested in an escalation of the security situation before the April elections. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the police will not use force within the area of the Temple Mount to close the Gate of Mercy building, where it would encounter violent resistance from the Muslim worshippers. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are considering the possibility of setting off a wave of demonstrations in east Jerusalem and the areas of the West Bank, which could also spill over into the Gaza Strip.

The “arm wrestling” between Israel and Jordan on the issue of the Gate of Mercy has gone on for over a week. Israel is trying to exert pressure on the Jordanians by taking measures against members of the Islamic Waqf council and the Waqf guards, but it is doubtful whether this will lead to a response to Israel’s demand to close the Gate of Mercy building again.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.