Jordan’s Waqf welcomes Israeli de-escalation at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque
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Updated 15 January 2020

Jordan’s Waqf welcomes Israeli de-escalation at Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Bab Al-Rahmeh was reopened to worshippers in February 2019

AMMAN: The director of Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf welcomed Israeli moves to de-escalate tensions surrounding Islam’s third-holiest mosque, but called for a serious and permanent change of policy by Israel.

Sheikh Azzam Khatib — an employee of Jordan’s Waqf in Jerusalem, the Islamic religious trust responsible for the management of the Islamic holy sites around, and including, Al-Aqsa Mosque — told Arab News that certain moves have lessened tensions but serious decisions are still pending. “We welcome the Israeli decision to bring down the scaffolding that has been up for over two years on the walls of Al-Aqsa, but call for the removal of the remaining scaffolding near the Moghrabi gate, which is five times the size of the removed scaffolding.”

Khatib expressed satisfaction at the decision of an Israeli court to reject a request by the pro-settlers right-wing NGO Regavim to reassess the Waqf’s rights over Bab Al-Rahmeh (the Golden Gate). 

Khatib also called on the Israeli police itself to withdraw its own petition to the court, explaining, “The Israeli police have filed a case calling for the closure, again, of Bab Al-Rahmeh on charges that it is used for terroristic actions.”

Jordanian officials also welcomed the decision of the Israeli court, but a senior official — speaking on condition of anonymity — told Arab News that he does not believe the Israelis are fully committed to de-escalation. 

“If they were serious, they would withdraw the case filed against the Waqf on December 29th and remove all the scaffolding,” the source said.

FASTFACT

On Nov. 5, 2014, Israeli police entered Al-Aqsa for the first time since capturing Jerusalem in 1967.

Bab Al-Rahmeh was reopened to worshippers in February 2019, after a 16-year closure initiated by Israel over claims that the area was used for fomenting anti-Israeli sentiment and actions. It has remained open since despite ongoing Israeli efforts to close it.

Nit Hasson, a reporter for the independent Israeli daily Haaretz, told Arab News that he doubts that the Israeli court system will be much help to the Waqf. 

“It is a known tradition that the Israeli courts do not interfere or stand in the way of decisions of the police,” he said.

Hasson said the scaffolding that remains has nothing to do with Muslims or the Waqf, but with the tensions between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews. 

“The Orthodox Jews don’t want women having any rights at the (Western Wall), while the non-orthodox — many of whom live in the US — are fighting for the rights of women to have access to (it),” he explained. 

The scaffolding was raised two years ago, when a stone fell near the location earmarked for female Jewish worshipers. 

The scaffolding indirectly blocked that area off, and the Israeli government has kept that part of the scaffolding for internal reasons, according to Hasson. “It is Netanyahu’s way of solving problems,” he said.

The removal of part of the scaffolding on Tuesday came one day after Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali visited Al-Aqsa Mosque and met with the Jerusalem Waqf Council.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 55 min 40 sec ago

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”