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June 3, 2020

Israel-Saudi ‘talks’ to curb Turkish influence in Jerusalem?

Top Story

June 3, 2020

JERUSALEM: Secret communications have been ongoing between Israel and Saudi Arabia focused on giving the kingdom a pivotal role in the management of Islamic endowments in occupied Jerusalem, an Israeli newspaper revealed, though authorities quickly refuted the allegations.

The Riyadh-Tel Aviv meetings included "sensitive calls that were carried out in secret through diplomats and high level security parties from Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia, as part of efforts to advance the deal of the century deal," the Israel Hume newspaper reported, citing high-level Saudi diplomats, reported international media.

The report also revealed Jordan's initial vehement opposition to any changes in the Islamic Endowments Council in Al-Aqsa Mosque, which has now changed due to the ongoing "intensive" Turkish role in the holy site.

According to the newspaper, the Jordanian party stopped objecting to the expansion of the Islamic Endowments Council and agreed, in an exceptional step and contrary to the Oslo agreements, to include Palestinian representatives in the council following the events of the Bab al-Rahma unrest last year and the metal detector crisis in 2017.

The report also accused Palestinian delegates, through their membership in the council, of paving the way for "Iranian and Turkish elements" to establish a foothold in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, through various associations that received tens of millions of dollars in funding from the Turkish government based on alleged "clear orders from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan".

As a result, the Jordanian side conveyed to Israel and the United States messages that the royal family in Jordan would be willing to reduce its opposition to everything related to the inclusion of Saudi representatives in the council, without affecting the special position of the Hashemite kingdom.

In return, the Jordanian side stipulated that the Saudis pump funds to Islamic societies active in occupied Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and exert political pressure to remove Turkish Muslim associations operating in the city under Palestinian cover. "If the Jordanians allowed the Turks to work freely in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, they would have remained after a few years as owners of a special position in the management of the holy sites," the newspaper quoted a senior Arab diplomat as saying.

Jordan needs the money and Saudi Arabia's influence in Jerusalem to repel Erdogan, which also meets the interests of Israel and the United States because this is in line with their Deal of the Century efforts, the source suggested.

Support from Saudi Arabia would also bring similar sentiment from the UAE and Bahrain, as well as other Arab nations to back President Donald Trump's so-called peace plan as well as Netanyahu's ambitions to annex the West Bank.

The source added that "it is still early to say whether this step went into effect", explaining that "the goal is to include Saudi delegates as non-binding observers only so that the exclusive status of Jordan is not damaged".

The General Director of the Islamic Endowments Endowment and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs in Jerusalem Azzam Al-Khatib swiftly moved to deny the "baseless" reports, confirming Jordan's inherited guardianship and historical patronage of the holy sites, according to Arabi21.

Jordanian sources speaking to Arabi21 also denied reports published by Israeli media, noting they were "incorrect".

The report comes just days after sources close to the Egyptian regime told The New Arab’s Arabic language service that Israel's Mossad chief met with the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, during a secret visit to Cairo to discuss annexations of large swaths of the occupied West Bank.

Cohen was projecting possible reactions to the annexation of illegal Israeli settlements and was trying to pre-empt potential reactions from Palestinian factions – especially Hamas. The source reported both the Egyptian and Israeli sides were discussing the possibility of matters "going out of control".

Israel's biggest concern is that Palestinians will react violently, especially through conducting suicide operations – a tactic that was commonly used during the Second Intifada. Jerusalem is especially vulnerable to such retaliations, Tel Aviv fears. The talks happened in the presence of Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, according to the report.

The discussions between the Egyptian and Israeli officials were followed by an Egyptian briefing to Jordanian officials on a number of points that Cohen made, the source cited said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to annex 80 percent of the West Bank's illegal Israeli settlements.

Some critics say the annexations do not go far enough and Tel Aviv should annex all of the settlements illegally built on Palestinian land. The unity government formed earlier this month by Netanyahu and centrist Benny Gantz has said it can start annexing parts of the West Bank as soon as July 1. The Israeli government's annexation plans go hand-in-hand with a peace proposal by the Trump administration unveiled earlier this year.

The so-called "Deal of the Century" gives Israel a green light to annex most West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley. "We have a historic opportunity, which hasn't existed since 1948, to apply sovereignty judiciously as a diplomatic... step in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu told a meeting of lawmakers from his right-wing Likud party on Tuesday. Right-wing Israelis and settlement advocates often use the biblical names Judea and Samaria to refer to the occupied West Bank.