Report: Israel-UAE normalisation raises concern over change in status of Al-Aqsa Mosque

That status quo has withstood various challenges since.

Al-Aqsa Mosque (المسجد الأقصى)

The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel could significantly impact the sensitive status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (المسجد الأقصى), a report by Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem has alerted.

The report disputed the wording about the  Al-Aqsa Mosque in a joint statement by U.S. President Donald Trump, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi (أبو ظبي), on 13 August.

The statement that has been condemned by Palestinians across the political spectrum says that “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other sacred sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths.”

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (النكسة), Jordan and Israel, the custodian of Al-Haram al-Sharif (الحرم القدسي الشريف) compound, settled that while Jews are allowed permission to the site, they can’t pray there. 

23 AUGUST, 1969: A crowd is watching firemen putting out a fire in Al-Aqsa Mosque. The pulpit of the mosque was set on fire by Denis Michael Rohan, a Christian Australian citizen. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

That status quo has withstood various challenges since.

Nevertheless, Terrestrial Jerusalem, an organization that tracks developments in Jerusalem that could impact political processes or spark violence, argues that the joint statement’s terminology is an intentional attempt to open up the Temple Mount for Jewish prayer and eventually change the status quo. 

“It is not that late to insist that this wording be omitted and that there be a renewed commitment, unambiguous in its clarity, by both Israel and the U.S. to the traditional interpretation of the status quo, and particularly regarding Jewish prayer on the Mount,” the report said.

Al-Aqsa, the third-holiest site in Islam, is located in the 14-hectare Al-Haram al-Sharif compound (Noble Sanctuary), known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The joint statement speaks of access to the “Al-Aqsa Mosque” rather than Al-Haram al-Sharif. While Israel defines Al-Aqsa as the mosque structure, Muslims define it as the entire esplanade of Al-Haram al-Sharif.

The Dome of the Rock (قبة الصخرة‎) is in the esplanade of Al-Haram al-Sharif. (Wikimedia)

“Consequently, according to Israel (and to the U.S.), anything on the Mount that is not the structure of the mosque is defined as ‘one of Jerusalem’s other holy sites,’ and open to prayer by all and free to worship by all – including Jews.”

Loss of Jerusalem (القدس)

Terrestrial Jerusalem also highlighted that the joint statement does not mention the Waqf (القدس وقف إسلامي), the Islamic organization that oversees the holy site, or its autonomous role as the agent of Jordanian custodianship, potentially eroding Muslim authority over Al-Aqsa.

The US-brokered deal has met with condemnation from Palestinians and their leadership. Palestinians have rejected it as tantamount to “treason” and “a stab in the back.”

The report states that the normalization between the two states could have severe ramifications on Jerusalem’s historical sites.

“It is almost inevitable that those interested in normalizing relations with Israel will be accused of contributing to the loss of Jerusalem to the Muslim world.”

Last year, an Israeli minister called on settlers to pursue entering the Al-Aqsa compound, days after clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians broke out at the site. 

The status of the Al-Haram al-Sharif compound is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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