JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel and Saudi Arabia have been conducting secret negotiations since December about allowing Saudi officials to join the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf responsible for controlling the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Israel Hayom reported.
“These talks are sensitive and clandestine and have been conducted by small teams of diplomats and security officials from Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia as part of the Trump administrations' Peace to Prosperity Middle East initiative,” unnamed senior Saudi diplomats told the Israeli paper.
The Waqf oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, claims exclusive control over the Temple Mount, and says it is not subject to Israeli law.
Jordan exclusively funds and manages the Waqf and according to the report, previously objected to any change in the Waqf council. However, Israel Hayom reports that Amman has since reversed its position because it is worried about the level of Turkey’s influence in eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
Seven senior Fatah and Palestinian Authority leaders were added to the council last February and opened the door for Turkish Islamic organizations to pump millions of dollars into projects in Jerusalem.
Jordan is willing to allow Saudi Arabia to have a place at the council so long as the Saudis apply diplomatic pressure to Turkish organizations in Jerusalem, they donate millions of dollars to Islamic organizations in the holy city, and Jordan retains its exclusive control on the Temple Mount.
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An unnamed senior Arab diplomat told the paper why Jordan is so interested in stopping Turkey from gaining influence in Jerusalem.
"If the Jordanians allow the Turks to operate unhindered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, within a matter of years their special status in charge of the Waqf and Muslim holy sites would be relegated to being strictly 'on paper.' They need the Saudi's money and influence to block (Turkey's President) Erdogan. Israel and the US also have an interest here because they want Saudi support for the US peace plan and Israeli annexation initiative, and because Saudi Arabia can ensure support from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates."
The diplomat said it is too early to know if the negotiations will actually lead to Saudi Arabia’s presence on the Temple Mount.
This report came a day after the Temple Mount reopened following Israel’s coronavirus lockdown.
Muslim worshippers visited the site, which is one of the holiest places in Islam.
Several dozen Jews were escorted by Israeli security forces onto the site.
The Temple Mount has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is the holiest site in Judaism.