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Palestinians in quandary about new visitors from Gulf

  • November 26, 2020

Since then, a few visitors from the Gulf — who avoided dressing in their national attire — have visited Al-Aqsa undercover and often with plain-clothed Israeli police accompanying them.

In general, opposition to visits by Gulf citizens and others are focused on three areas: the need to coordinate with Jordan and Palestine; the need for visitors to stay in hotels in the eastern part of the city; and that visitors should always use the main gates of the mosque that all Muslims use and not enter the mosque under Israeli protection or with their help.

The Palestinian Sharia Court’s top judge, Mahmoud Habash, publicly stated on Nov. 24 that the Palestinian position regarding Al-Aqsa has not changed: “Al-Aqsa will remain open to all those who enter it from the legitimate gates, which is the state of Palestine, and in coordination with Jordan as per the agreement [in place] since 2013 between Palestine and Jordan.”

Israeli media claim that a four-way agreement between the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Palestine was reached that allowed for visits to the mosque so long as they use one of the eight gates (not al-Moghrabi).

While neither Jordan nor Palestine would confirm or deny the meeting, some analysts have pointed to the Nov. 18 summit held in Abu Dhabi between Jordan’s King Abdullah II along with his UAE and Bahraini counterparts as perhaps having resolved some of the conflicting issues around the potential visits of Al-Aqsa by citizens of some of these Gulf countries.

Jordan, however, reacted quickly to parts of the claims in the Israeli media, especially the Israeli claim that al-Moghrabi gate — which is accessible by means of a bridge from the Western Wall that is revered by Jews — is an official gate for Israelis and tourists.

A Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman explained that “al-Moghrabi gate and the road leading to it, like the rest of the other gates of the compound, is an integral part of the Haram al-Sharif, a fact that was underlined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).”

The ministry’s spokesman, Dhaifallah al-Fayez, said Nov. 24 that “Israel has been holding the keys to the gate since the 1967 occupation and has denied the Waqf administration the right to organize the entry of non-Muslims and tourists to the compound since 2000 in a gross violation of the status quo.”

The flurry of movements, statements and rebuttals points to a simple fact: The latest UAE and Bahraini normalization with Israel has become a fact of life that all parties have to learn to live with. Palestinians and Jordanians, however, want to ensure that the new, visiting Gulf citizens are aware of the complexities and sensitivities that surround the holy places. The effort now is focused on the best way to ensure that visitors stay in the Palestinian half of the city and abide by the same rituals and traditions that all Muslims have practiced when visiting the holy sites.

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