Wednesday, May 11, 2022

By Daled Amos

The Hamas terrorists would like you to know that they are in charge.

That was the goal a year ago when they successfully precipitated the Israeli retaliation in response to yet another series of massive Hamas rocket attacks, numbering over 3,000 rockets. But there are just so many times that Hamas can cavalierly invite destruction in Gaza, reminding Palestinian Arabs living there just how poorly the terrorist group governs the area.

So now Hamas is pushing a new narrative: Hamas is claiming to be the protector of Jerusalem. More than that, in pursuit of that new role, they are claiming to be the force behind this year's deadly attacks on Jews.

But not everyone is buying it.

Eyal Zisser, a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University, writes that in reality, Hamas is scared out of its wits:

Hamas is trying to cause a flare-up in Judea and Samaria and among the Arab Israeli public because it fears a direct confrontation with the Israeli military on the Gaza border, for the State of Hamas will be the one to pay the price for any fighting in the strip. Hamas’s policy projects no sophistication or boldness, only weakness.

According to Zisser, Hamas is taking credit for something that is actually out of its hands -- and even the hands of the Palestinian Authority: the Palestinian Arab street. It is something that might be ignited and incited, but it is not something that can be controlled -- "The Palestinian arena, including the Arab Israeli public, is characterized by a lack of leadership, a lack of direction, and internal chaos."

But that is not preventing the terrorist group from playing this new angle for all it is worth.

And according to an article last month by The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh, others believe what Hamas is saying. One of their leaders claimed that some countries and even the UN turned to the terrorists in an effort to avoid an escalation in the violence during Ramadan.

And unlike Zisser, Abu Toameh is of the opinion that "Hamas has once again shown that there is no ignoring its role in events taking place in Jerusalem and the West Bank."

Both Jordan and the PA are also taking Hamas seriously.

Last week, Abu Toameh wrote about the PA, Jordan in bid to prevent Hamas takeover of Temple Mount:

Palestinian sources pointed out that activists belonging to Fatah, the ruling faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have been deployed at the compound in the past two weeks in a show of force and a warning to Hamas supporters.

In addition, the Jordanian-controlled Wakf Department, which administers the affairs of the Aqsa Mosque compound, has instructed its security guards to remove Hamas banners from the area, the sources said. The guards were also instructed to stop worshipers from bringing fireworks and other objects into the compound.

According to a PA official, Israel and Jordan are close to an agreement on the Wakf's responsibilities, which would include hiring new guards, both replacing guards who have retired and increasing the total number of guards. One sticking point seems to be Israel's insistence that the new guards pass a security clearance.

One idea not mentioned is installing security cameras.
Remember those?

The original idea for having cameras on the Temple Mount was that it would make it possible to spot people trying to smuggle weapons into the Al-Aqsa Mosque. At the time, both Jordan and the Wakf turned it down -- this despite the fact that The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and the Great Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia both have cameras as a security precaution.

Maybe Jordan will reconsider the idea this week.

This Friday Jordanian King Abdullah II and his son, Crown Prince Hussein, will be meeting with Biden. According to Jonathan Schanzer, Senior VP at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

The Hashemite Kingdom has recently made a push for a greater agency on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, amidst flaring tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Such statements resonate among Jordan’s Palestinian citizens, who account for as many as 80% of the Jordanian population. The King may seek to press this during his meeting with President Biden.

This might be more than just an issue of religious motivation and dedication. Schanzer points out that Jordan is suffering from problems with both its economy and COVID. In addition, internally there is dissatisfaction with the way King Abdullah is running the country. He may see strengthening his role in the mosque as part of a solution to his domestic problems rather than as a distraction from dealing with them.

After all, championing the Al Aqsa Mosque seems to be helping Hamas. It's only natural that the king will want to reinforce his own claims to it.

Another push for increasing Jordan's role is coming from Mansour Abbas.

Last month, his Ra'am party froze its membership in Bennett's coalition during the wave of attacks at the time. One of the conditions for its return to voting with the coalition was a summit between Israel and Jordan focusing on an outline for “returning the status quo” of the Al Aqsa Mosque.

But it might be easier to press ahead with a stronger role for Jordan if it would stop being so antagonistic towards Israel.

In advance of Friday's meeting, Washington issued a statement that “Jordan is a critical force for stability in the Middle East and strategic partner and ally of the United States.” That would be easier to believe if Jordan was not adding to the instability.

Just last month:

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said there was a need for an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers to discuss the "Israeli escalation,"

o  In the Jordanian parliament, Prime Minister Bishar al-Hassuna praised Palestinians "who throw stones at Zionist forces defiling the Al-Aqsa Mosque." 

o  Jordan condemned Israeli authorities for allowing Jewish worshipers on the Temple Mount -- despite the longtime understanding that Jews are allowed to visit there, just not pray there.

o  According to state media, King Abdullah himself said that Israel's "unilateral" moves against Muslim worshippers seriously undermined the prospects for peace in the region.

o  While speaking to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the king blamed Israel for "provocative acts" in the mosque compound that violated "the legal and historic status quo" of the Muslim holy shrines. 

o  Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar noted that the remarks made by senior Jordanian officials feed "attempts by extremist and terrorist elements, such as Hamas, to ignite the territory through a false anti-Israel campaign."

So much for Jordan being "a critical force for stability in the Middle East."

King Abdullah II's future as ruler of Jordan likely is tied to the influence and control he can exert over Al Aqsa. But the enemy that is standing in his way is Hamas -- not Israel. However, joining in the pile-on accusing Israel of bad intent and praising Palestinian Arabs for their attacks is also a quick and easy way for the king to earn credibility among his own people.

That Biden shows more support for Abdullah than for the Abraham Accords is itself not encouraging for the future stability in the region or for continued US support in the Middle East.

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