For years the Palestinian Authority (PA) urged Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem and the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque arguing that “visiting a prisoner does not mean normalising relations with the jailer.”
Today, the rush by Gulf states to normalise relations with Israel has made the PA do an about turn, describing normalising relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause… and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.
US President Donald Trump announced 13 August that the UAE and Israel had agreed to fully normalise relations in the first such agreement between a Gulf country and Israel, and the third peace deal with an Arab country after ones signed by Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
In a joint statement, the UAE, Bahrain and Israel stated that according to the agreement “all Muslims can come in peace to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and pray there.”
On 11 September, Bahrain became the second Gulf country to normalise relations with Israel, after the UAE. Both countries signed normalisation agreements with Israel at a White House ceremony in Washington 15 September.
In the aftermath of the announcement that Bahrain and Israel will establish diplomatic relations, The Times of Israel quoted senior White House adviser Jared Kushner as telling journalists: “This will ease tensions in the Islamic world and allow people to separate the Palestinian cause from their national interests and foreign policy and focus on their domestic priorities.”
Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, continued that there is a clause in both agreements and the US peace plan known as the “Deal of the Century” that Israel pledges to allow Muslims to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and pray there. He blamed “radicals” for “distorting” the issue of Israeli control over the holy site, and using this to drive a wedge between people.
Palestinians are united in rejecting the “Deal of the Century” announced by Trump in January, deeming it gravely unjust towards their historic rights and contradicting international resolutions on Palestine and a two-state solution.
They also strongly object to the normalisation move by the UAE and Bahrain, describing it as “a stab in the back” that gives legitimacy to the occupation of Jerusalem and recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.
Earlier, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee, said that the UAE-Israeli normalisation agreement “violates Hashemite guardianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque”. Commenting on the clause allowing Muslims to pray there, Erekat said Jerusalem “is an occupied land and any action there by the occupation is null and void”.
Jordan has guardianship on Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, funds the salaries of the Islamic Endowments staff, and provides necessary grants for maintaining Al-Aqsa Mosque. The peace agreement between Jordan and Israel gave Amman a key role at holy sites, and states that Israel respects the current role of the Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom at Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
A paper published by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) on the UAE-Israel deal, also known as the “Abraham Accord”, highlights “how immersed the Trump administration is in religious ideology which is the foundation of its so-called Deal of the Century, and prioritises religious aspects over political ones, and a solution based on legitimacy and international law”.
The paper added: “This deal does not present a balanced solution to end the conflict. Prioritising the religious narrative and mentality in the conflict, without resolving the core of the problem, does not lead to peace between the supporters of the three religions. Instead, it focuses on the religious nature of the conflict and turns it into a war between religions.”
The paper continued that the “story behind naming the deal shows the US’s domination of managing this shameful agreement, while the role of the UAE was merely to submit to the will of the US to the extent that it was not even consulted on the name of the agreement”.
Trump asked his ambassador to Tel Aviv, David Friedman, to explain the reasons for naming the deal between the UAE and Israel the “Abraham Accord”. Friedman, known for his hostility towards Palestinians and rejection of a two-state solution, explained: “Abraham, as most of you know, was the father of all three great religions. He is called Abraham in Christianity, Ibrahim in Islam and Abram in Judaism.
No other figure symbolises the possibility of unity among these three great religions better than Abraham, which is why this deal is given this name.”
Regarding the status of Jerusalem in the UAE-Israel deal, the NAD paper stated that UAE officials presented the deal as a “victory” for the Palestinian cause and regional peace, but this contradicts the achievements of the US-Israeli initiative that aims to entrench Israeli occupation and colonisation of occupied Jerusalem — the beating heart of Palestine and hundreds of millions of Arab and Muslims around the world. It continued that the deal amounts to de facto recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem because it avoids any references to international law or relevant UN resolutions or the inalienable rights of Palestinians in their city.
The paper noted that the three-way statement referred to opening Al-Aqsa Mosque to “peaceful worshippers” of “all religions” which threatens to undermine the legal and historic status of Jerusalem and its holy sites. Occupation forces place stiff restrictions on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who wish to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and other Islamic or Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. During Ramadan, Easter, Christmas and Islamic feasts, Israeli authorities only allow certain categories — mostly men over 50, women and children under 12 — to visit.
In response to the UAE deal, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, prohibited prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque according to the deal, and issued religious regulations for those who want to visit Al-Aqsa, including going through the PA or the Jordanian government. In a statement, Sheikh Hussein said that prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque are “not for those who normalise” relations with Israeli occupation, and everything in the “Deal of the Century” is “null and void, and religiously forbidden because it compromises Jerusalem”.
He continued: “Prayers at Al-Aqsa are open to those who come through the legitimate Palestinian gate; not those who normalise relations and take advantage of this to embrace [the US plan for a settlement] known as the Deal of the Century. Visiting via normalisation is sinful because it is the implementation of the Deal of the Century which abandons Jerusalem since one of its stipulations states that Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli entity, which naturally includes holy sites.”
Hussein’s statement added: “The blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is for Muslims only. No one will be allowed to abandon one grain of sand there. Palestinians are also banned from welcoming or interacting with those who have normalised relations.”
The Jerusalem complex that includes Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock is the first qibla (direction towards which Muslims pray) and third most holy site for Muslims. Jews claim that the Wailing Wall located below Al-Aqsa’s courtyard is the last remaining structure of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and is the most holy site for them. During the 1948 War, Israel invaded Jerusalem and occupied 85 per cent of the city (West Jerusalem). In June 1967, Israel invaded the remainder of the city which is now known as East Jerusalem. In 1980, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and imposed its laws and judicial sovereignty there, in blatant violation of international law.
Since the occupation of Jerusalem, the Zionist movement began peddling the notion of the Jewish Temple by tailoring interpretation of texts from the Torah and Talmud that serve its goals.
Many Zionist organisations were created to prove this, including extremist groups such the Association of Temple Trustees and the Movement to Seize Al-Aqsa, which with the help of successive Israeli governments have been excavating underneath Al-Aqsa under the pretext of searching for antiquities. The occupation also carries out daily raids of the mosque in an effort to impose temporal and spatial division between Muslims and Jews, similar to what happened at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the southern West Bank.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly