For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, an Arab country is at the forefront of establishing a change of status for occupied Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The UAE is the country in question. Its agreement with Israel, for the first time, limits the rights of Muslims in Al-Aqsa Mosque to the prayer building at the southern end of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa (Al-Haram Al-Sharif), which the Israelis call “the Temple Mount” and covers 144 acres. Muslims and international resolutions have always regarded the whole sanctuary to be “Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
The UAE-Israel deal also grants people from all religions the right to pray within the sanctuary, granting de facto recognition to Israeli settlers’ armed incursions in Al-Aqsa. According to the UAE agreement, such incursions — accompanied and protected by Israeli soldiers — will become “prayers”.
Israel wants to have alternative Arabs on hand to validate what it imposes whatever it wants onto the Palestinians. This is the essence of the “deal of the century” cobbled together by Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. The deal is based on bypassing the Palestinians and dealing with them as an ethnic minority within a state called Israel. Accordingly, they are granted minority rights but not the right to an independent state.
The UAE-Israeli agreement also bypasses the Palestinians, ignoring both them and their existence. It promotes Israeli interests and efforts aimed at crushing any Palestinian presence in their own land, as well as any official representation. It goes as far as ignoring the existence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
The agreement resulted from secret negotiations in which the Palestinians were not involved. Its godfathers simply used the Palestinians as an excuse so that the UAE could claim that Israel had reversed the decision to annex occupied West Bank territory as a condition of the agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later denied that, and revealed that the agreement did not address annexation in the first place; that the decision to annex territory has not been changed; and that the decision to postpone, not cancel, the annexation plan was taken before the normalisation deal with the UAE.
The establishment of a new status for occupied Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque is more dangerous than any of this, though. The decision was taken without consulting any Palestinian, Arab or Islamic authorities and in the complete absence of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The Palestinians — the rightful owners of occupied Palestine — had no knowledge of what was being planned by the UAE.
Kushner’s project is based on the Arabisation of the issue of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is in fact an Islamic issue. What Kushner wants is for its sponsorship to be handed over to Arab regimes allied with Israel, so that Tel Aviv finds an Arab counterpart willing to approve whatever the Israelis want in the Holy City. However, everything that the Israelis and the Americans want to impose cannot be approved by any Palestinian or Jordanian. It is a clear violation of all previous agreements that Israel has signed with any Arabs, including the Wadi Araba Peace Treaty with Jordan.
This is why Israel has had to resort to partners in the Gulf who have previously put pressure on the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, which was resisted. Now these Gulf States have decided to jump over the PA, deal directly with Israel and hand over what is not theirs to give.
This article first appeared in Arabic in The New Khaleej on 1 September 2020. Then, published in Middle East Monitor on 5 September 2020.
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