Jordan has asked Israel to allow it to build a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, on the eastern wall of the Mount, facing the Mount of Olives. The Jordanian request is not new, and as far as it is known, at least at this stage, Israel does not intend to allow it. 

This issue has again been put on the public agenda, along with other matters relating to the ties between Jordan and Israel on the Temple Mount, in light of Jordan’s decision not to renew the lease agreement for land in Naharayim and the Arava, which Israeli farmers have been working for the past 25 years.

Israel intends to open a general dialogue with Jordan on security, intelligence, economic, and agricultural issues related to diplomatic ties between both countries. Jordan seeks to include within this discussion – at least formally – the issue of the Temple Mount. Israel’s relations with Jordan on the Temple Mount are based on informal understandings that are intended to prevent the growth of extreme elements on the mount, such as Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. 

The understandings are also supposed to allow Jordan to influence Temple Mount affairs as part of the empowerment that the Hashemite royal family wants to demonstrate to the Jordanian public so that it can stabilize its rule and show its achievements against the opponents of the regime among the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

Fakhriyya Minaret on the Temple Mount
Fakhriyya Minaret on the Temple Mount

The only formal basis of the special relationship between Israel and Jordan regarding the Temple Mount is the peace agreement that was signed between the two. The agreement states that out of all the Arab countries, Israel will grant top priority to Jordan with regard to the sites that are holy to Islam in Jerusalem. 

An additional formal dimension of this special relationship between Israel and Jordan on the Temple Mount are the understandings reached by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and Jordan several years ago. Within the framework of these understandings, Israel and Jordan created the current situation and for the first time formally established that Jews cannot exercise their right to pray on the Temple Mount, although they can visit.

The issue of the “fifth minaret” has been on the agenda as part of a series of discussions with Jordan about the Temple Mount for a long time. Jordan has now renewed its request on this matter as part of a growing rivalry with Turkey over exerting an influence on the Old City and the Temple Mount.

From 1948 to 1967, Jordan ruled over the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. It considered itself the guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Even after Israel liberated Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site for the Jewish nation, Jordan continued to watch over the Temple Mount, paying the wages of the Waqf religious council, investing considerable resources into the site, and providing the carpets in the mosques.

As part of the understandings with Israel, Jordan was given the task of renovating the southern and eastern walls of the Temple Mount, as these became unstable 15 years ago. Israel also agreed to Jordan’s request not to change the temporary Mughrabi Bridge, which was erected at the Mughrabi Gate, the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims. The temporary wooden bridge was built there when the dirt track leading to the gate collapsed in the winter of 2004.

Nadav Shragai is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as a journalist and commentator at Ha’aretz between 1983 and 2009, is currently a journalist and commentator at Israel Hayom, and has documented the dispute over Jerusalem for thirty years.