May 2022

Critical Neighbors: Egypt, Jordan, and the Israeli-Palestinian Arena


A collection of written analysis by members of an Israel Policy Forum task force offering four perspectives—Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian—on recent events in Jerusalem.

When Passover and Ramadan Coincide

This year’s convergence of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian holidays should have been an opportunity for people to come together. However, in these difficult times, some are content with the fact that the situation is far less violent than last year. It seems that key players internalized important lessons, but this process has only just begun.

To what should the marked improvement be attributed, what did still go wrong, and what will it take for next year’s holiday season to be more peaceful yet?

Below is an attempt by the members of an Israel Policy Forum task force to offer four perspectives—Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian—on these questions.

An Israeli Perspective:

A New Government, Signs of a Different Approach

Nimrod Novik

Israel Fellow, Israel Policy Forum and former Israeli diplomat

A Palestinian Perspective:

Let’s Go Back to
Pre-2000

Ibrahim Eid Dalalsha

Director, Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach

A Jordanian Perspective:

Jordanian-Israeli Relations Are Not All Holly Jolly

Farah Bdour

Political Analyst, Amman Center for Peace and Development

An Egyptian Perspective:

Firefighting Will Not Achieve Peace

Hesham Youssef

Senior Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and former Egyptian diplomat

An Israeli Perspective:A New Government, Signs of a Different Approach

by Nimrod Novik

The Knesset Building in Jerusalem, Israel

Overview

When Jews gather for the Passover Seder, tradition has it that the youngest asks four questions, beginning with “Why is tonight different?” Even though the holiday season is still with us, and with challenging moments looming over the coming weeks, it seems that one can tentatively argue that compared with but a year ago, the differences are significant, mostly for the better.

A change in Israel’s conduct contributed to the fact that thus far we have not witnessed anything close to last year’s level of violence. On the other hand, several third parties—most significantly Jordan, an old peace signatory, and the UAE, a new normalizer—have been far more outspoken in expressing disapproval of Israel’s conduct than they were last year. Concurrently, Egypt, which was the key firefighter last year, was spared the need to mediate a ceasefire, but true to its pragmatic approach, combined private messaging with effective behind-the-scenes delivery of preventive diplomatic medicine. Finally, though far less engaged than during last year’s hostilities, and benefitting from ‘eyes and ears on the ground’ thanks to a fully staffed embassy, the U.S. proved unable to stay away. Its involvement—from presidential phone calls to the dispatch of senior State Department diplomats—seemed again to echo Al Pacino’s famous quip in The Godfather: “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”

The Good News

Much of the credit for preventing an explosion resembling last year’s must go to the change in Israeli leadership. Though shaken by four recent terror attacks that took the lives of 14 Israelis, by the loss of its slim Knesset majority, and by other tensions stemming from the unprecedented diversity of the current coalition, this Israeli government proved determined to prevent extremists from igniting Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and Israel’s cities, as they did in May 2021. 

The Erez crossing from Gaza into Israel by amillionwaystobe, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Consequently, it took several preventive measures, including:

  • Controversial (if not provocative) demolitions of Palestinian houses and evictions of families in East Jerusalem were suspended.
  • Jewish extremists’ plans for provocative, arcane religious ceremonies at the Temple Mount as well as a provocative ‘flag march’ entry into Palestinian neighborhoods were forcefully prevented.
  • Police norms of conduct were refreshed and adjusted to account for the sensitive location and moment.  
  • Israel issued additional permits for Gazans to work in Israel and implemented other relief measures meant, inter alia, to deter Hamas from risking it all by opening fire. 
  • Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives on the West Bank were detained in an effort to thwart terror activities against Israel and Israelis. 
  • The government extended the traditional ten-day closure of the Mount for Jewish visitors to two weeks for the duration of the second half of Ramadan
  • West Bank closure, in the past lasting the entire Passover week, was shortened substantially.
  • All of this was preceded by discreet coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and intense high-level consultations with Jordan, in order to signal adherence to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty’s clause that ensures Jordan’s role in all matters related to Muslim shrines in the Old City and to coordinate preventive measures. This was in line with the Bennett government’s reversal of the Netanyahu policy of undermining both Jordan’s role in these matters and overall bilateral relations with this critical neighbor.
The March 2022 Negev Summit

Whom to Credit?

Some of the measures taken can be attributed to the advocacy of the IDF, Shin Bet, and other security agencies, reflecting lessons learned from last year’s experience. Others reflected a greater appreciation of the impact of al-Aqsa-related violence on important strategic partners. It was not only Jordan that cautioned about the risks associated with a reiteration of last year’s violence. That message came also from Abu Dhabi, Manama, and other Arab capitals. Nor was it the first time that these new partners signaled to Jerusalem that bilateral normalization is not immune to the effect of violence in the city and the Palestinian arena. As early as May 2021, it was Defense Minister Gantz who received the message over several phone calls from his Emirati counterpart. Subsequently, Prime Minister Bennett heard it from his host in Bahrain and Foreign Minister Lapid from his guests at the first Negev Summit.

Though weak and suffering from a lack of popular legitimacy, yet ignoring pressures to sever relations with Israel—security coordination included—Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reacted both cautiously and responsibly. Much like Jordan, with whom he is closely coordinating, he confined his protest to words, not deeds that could have further aggravated matters.

Two other players deserve credit: the U.S. and Mansour Abbas. Not the expected bedfellows, both Washington and the leader of the Islamist Ra’am party (a coalition partner of Prime Minister Bennett) pressed for similar lists of dos and don’ts, including preventing the flag march from entering Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods and continuing the practice of closing the Mount for non-Muslims for the second half of Ramadan.

The Bad News

On the domestic political front, it appears that both Prime Minister Bennett and MK Abbas have all but exhausted the political space afforded by their respective parties. In both, ideological diehards were up in arms over what was viewed as yielding on core values: Jewish freedom of visitation, prayer, and blunt demonstration of sovereignty for Religious Zionists; unrestricted and unfettered access to Muslims for the Islamist party. 

Otherwise, on the domestic front, it turned out that the message of a new mode of conduct did not reach all layers of law enforcement agencies. The phenomenon of the ‘strategic corporal’—where a junior officer’s misconduct triggers a crisis—found expression in viral images of police violence, feeding unfounded conspiracy theories and fueling tensions.

Vis-à-vis local Muslim populations, both West Bankers and Israel’s Arab citizens, a decade-long Israeli policy of undermining any entity claiming authority regarding al-Aqsa left the government and those acting on its behalf with no ‘address’. If in the past one could communicate and coordinate—discreetly or otherwise—with a center of authority that could exert influence over incited youth, this is no longer the case. Preventing any PA presence, undermining Jordan’s role, and castrating the Waqf’s potency opened the door for the most extreme agitators—Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Northern Branch of Israel’s Islamic movement, and others—to incite violence, forcing the Israeli police to deal with challenges it was not designed for.   

Intra-Palestinian dynamics were also affected by these events, and not for the better. Careful to not involve Gaza in yet another round of fighting with the IDF, Hamas—as well as PIJ—confined their activity to remotely inciting Palestinian youth to violent protest on and around the Mount. Both also bragged that it was their threats that forced Israel to restrain Jewish extremists and close the area to non-Muslims. Consequently, almost without firing a shot, Hamas reinforced the false dichotomy that Hamas and PIJ “protect Jerusalem” whereas the PA is “complicit in Israeli aggression.” Further undermining what remained of PA legitimacy, this was perceived as a continuation of Israeli policies that strengthen extremists while weakening moderates.

Regionally, reactions proved less forgiving than they were during May 2021. Jordan’s prime minister went as far as to express support for Palestinian stone-throwers; the UAE not only issued sharp public condemnations (which it had avoided doing last year) but went further by being instrumental in convening a U.N. Security Council emergency session on the subject. These are just the most striking examples. When asked about the reason for more forceful reactions to less violent developments, one Gulf diplomat intimated frustration with what had been perceived as an insufficient Israeli reaction to early warnings. Israel seemed less sensitive to the effect of images of violence at the holy shrine, which serve adversaries of its peace partners who seek to undermine internal stability and regime legitimacy, he added.

Although the various repeated cautioning messages from these capitals were hardly ignored, it seems that Israel did not fully internalize them. Indeed, when asked about it, more than one member of Cabinet expressed dismay at the sharp reactions given “all that we’ve done to prevent escalation.”

Bottom Line 

A decade-long erosion of the Temple Mount Status Quo, best summarized by former Prime Minister Netanyahu as “Muslims pray, others visit,” accelerated during his final years in office and contributed to last year’s violence and this year’s tensions. All who were rightfully worried in 2021, who appreciate the marked improvement in 2022, and who wish the holiday season of 2023 to be calmer and more peaceful yet must not waste a day in tending to this complex issue. Worthy recommendations are found in the other memos in this compilation, but they all must begin with clarifying the essence of the Status Quo, imposing strict adherence thereto, and empowering Jordan and, on its behalf, the Waqf, while finding ways to coordinate it all with both the PA and Israel’s other peace partners. It is with this in mind that the reported Israeli-Jordanian decision to convene the bilateral Jerusalem committee shortly after Ramadan should be welcomed.

 

A Palestinian Perspective:Let’s Go Back to Pre-2000

by Ibrahim Eid Dalalsha

Ramallah, West Bank

This time last year, incidents in Sheikh Jarrah, at Damascus Gate, and in other East Jerusalem neighborhoods—including a provocative ‘flag march’ and incidents at al-Aqsa Mosque—triggered an armed confrontation between Hamas and the Israeli army that resulted in more than 260 Palestinians and 11 Israelis killed and enormous damage to Gaza infrastructure. This year’s holiday convergence proved far less fatal, but violent nonetheless. Tensions mounted following a number of attacks against Israeli civilians that killed 14 individuals, and subsequent Israeli military activities in the West Bank leaving 13 Palestinians dead. Tensions on the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem further increased, especially during the week of Passover—which coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, where thousands of Israeli right-wing activists, escorted by Israeli police, made their way onto the al-Aqsa compound.  Coupled with Jewish extremists’ calls for holding a Passover sacrifice ritual on-site, Palestinian activists heeded the calls of political factions, clergy, and others to “defend al-Aqsa” against alleged Israeli plans to change the Status Quo on-site and divide it temporally and spatially between Jews and Muslims.  

The Israeli government dismissed as lies all reports of intent to change the Status Quo, but that by itself did little to allay concerns. It helped mitigate tensions but not prevent clashes. These tensions, though not new, triggered a political and diplomatic public spat between King Abdullah of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority on one side, and the Israeli government on the other. The Palestinian official definition of the Status Quo to apply to holy sites is almost identical to that of Jordan. Both call for the restoration of the status as it existed until 2000. 

The following examines the Palestinian perspective on and dynamics related to this sensitive issue.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made several public comments calling to restore the pre-2000 arrangements on the site by giving full authority to the Jordanian Islamic Waqf Department, including coordinating all visits of non-Muslims. The Palestinian perspective is in line with the Jordanian position, stating that the Status Quo has been violated in past years, especially following the 2003 unilateral opening of the site for non-Muslims to visit without coordination with the Waqf Department. That is in addition to placing restrictions on the work of the Islamic Waqf in terms of a ban on its previously performed maintenance, restoration, and several other security and administrative functions. Furthermore, the Waqf Department is required to obtain Israeli vetting when hiring security guards and to seek permission to hold maintenance work, while Israeli police often prevent Waqf workers from carrying out such missions.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

Over the years, Israeli religious nationalists violated the Status Quo by performing acts that, up until a few years ago, were prohibited by all Israeli governments since 1967. These have included raising the Israeli flag, praying on-site, holding lectures, and distributing posters of the Jewish Temple replacing the Dome of the Rock. In recent years, such practices have been increasingly tolerated by Israeli police, thus cementing perceptions among Palestinians that the Israeli authorities are complicit with Jewish extremists’ gradual plan to permanently alter the Status Quo and the character of the site, including by dividing it between Muslims and Jews spatially and temporally. 

In order to help manage tensions around this site and avoid making decisions that would lead to further deterioration, President Abbas canceled a leadership meeting that was expected to implement previously announced measures against the Israeli government, including terminating security coordination. Despite internal pressures and heated criticism, President Abbas called off the meeting and instead announced that the PA, as well as Jordan, were engaged in an intense political and diplomatic campaign aimed at restoring the Status Quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. 

The 2007 Jerusalem Day flag march by Hoheit, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (License linked to image)

Among other players, Hamas officials publicly claimed credit for thwarting what they described as Jewish extremists’ schemes against al-Haram al-Sharif, and for the cancellation of the flag march that had triggered the firing of rockets toward Jerusalem last year. Hamas officials bragged about last year’s losses as “sacrifices” and claimed that their firm position effectively deterred aggressive acts against the city and the mosque.  Official Hamas statements also harshly criticized the PA for maintaining security coordination with Israel and for failing to defend Jerusalem and the holy sites.

According to well-informed sources, the Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian Waqf Department presented the visiting U.S. diplomatic delegation with a list of terms from the pre-September 2000 Status Quo relating to the management of access of non-Muslims to al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif that they requested be reinstated.

This list included the following:

  1. Access to non-Muslims was subject to approval by the Jordanian Waqf Department through a prior written request.
  2. Non-Muslim prayers were not permitted in al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif, nor were prayer tools or instruments allowed.
  3. Deployment of armed personnel in al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif was not allowed.
  4. The Jordanian Waqf Department had the authority to regulate entry and access to al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif for non-Muslims, which included: 
    • Determining acceptable clothing, conduct, and behavior in al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif.
    • Setting security measures intended to preserve order in al-Aqsa Mosque/al- Haram al-Sharif.
    • Providing all personnel for security escorts in al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif.
    • Blacklisting tourists who breached visitation regulations and prohibiting them from entering in the future.
    • Predetermining the time, route, and duration of visits, specifically: 
      • The size of Jewish tourist groups (usually three and not exceeding five persons).
      • The route of the visits (predetermined by the Jordanian Awqaf Department, usually 150 meters in each direction). 
      • The frequency of visits.

In conclusion, while tensions on al-Haram al-Sharif/al-Aqsa Mosque this year were not unique, it is worth noting that for the first time since 2003, the Jordanian government, as well as the Palestinian Authority, launched a coordinated diplomatic and political campaign aimed at restoring the Status Quo as it persisted between the years 1967-2000.  While the full restoration of the pre-2000 Status Quo may be difficult to achieve immediately, it is imperative that gradual steps in this direction are taken right away, in order to secure a more peaceful holiday season next year and beyond. Having been weakened over the years, the Waqf is viewed by many as irrelevant. Its ability to control crowds and prevent incidents of violence has thus been seriously impaired. In order to defuse future tensions and eruptions of violence on the site, reversing Israeli practices that undermine Waqf authority on the site is an urgent priority.

A Jordanian Perspective:Jordanian-Israeli Relations Are Not All Holly Jolly

by Farah Bdour

Amman, Jordan

It has been less than a year since the Jordanian and Israeli governments changed course, seeking to repair the frayed ties that had characterized bilateral relations over the previous decade. In the lead-up to the converging holidays, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Minister of Internal Security Omer Barlev, and President Isaac Herzog all held meetings with HM King Abdullah II and relevant senior Jordanian officials, which the monarch described as “very encouraging.” These meetings stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between the two countries and a common objective of maintaining regional stability. They also discussed ways to enhance cooperation in trade, energy, water, and food security. Jerusalem, particularly its holy sites, was certainly on the agenda.

However, the momentum these meetings achieved is challenged by two factors: first, both Jordan and Israel are burdened by respective complex domestic agendas that affect foreign policy decisions, often resulting in contradictory positions despite shared interests. Second, a decade of Netanyahu leadership, less attuned to Jordanian interests and on occasion outright offensive to them, left obstacles that take a long time to overcome. This is particularly true when it comes to Jerusalem. 

Both Jordan and Israel have an interest in maintaining calm in Jerusalem and avoiding last year’s scenario when the “Sword of Jerusalem” clashed with the “Guardian of the Walls.” From a Jordanian perspective, instability west of the Jordan River has an eastward ripple effect. The Palestinian human toll, violations of the Status Quo in Jerusalem, and a potential civil war scenario in Israel can strike an angry chord among Jordanians and fuel confrontational sentiment among thousands. There are also concerns regarding the rise of Hamas’ popularity among Jordanians and its self-portrayal as the protector of al-Aqsa. Within the context of a fragile economy and high unemployment, popular anger might be exploited by extremists and undermine the ambitious program to democratize the country, thus affecting stability. 

Consequently, in the lead-up to the month of Ramadan and Passover, and following several terror attacks in Israel, the king took steps in trying to prevent a reiteration of May 2021’s violence. These included the above-noted meeting with Foreign Minister Lapid, where they agreed to “work together to calm tensions and promote understanding.” During a subsequent meeting with President Herzog the king condemned the terror attacks in Israel and conveyed condolences to the victims’ families. The same message was conveyed over a phone call with Prime Minister Bennett. 

Even though Israeli preventive measures seem to have contained the violence over the past weeks, nonetheless, the Jordanian media featured images of incursion and aggression by Israeli security forces as well as provocative and violent conduct by Israelis against Palestinian worshippers. These images ignited nationwide protests in solidarity with the Palestinians and resulted in a massive majority in the Jordanian Parliament calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the severance of relations. Other reports suggested that the Israeli police blocked Muslims’ access to al-Haram al-Sharif while allowing a large number of ultra-nationalist Jews to enter the sacred site under police protection to pray at the compound in violation of the Status Quo. 

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Jordanians’ frustration with Israel’s conduct and the need to deal with the same situation year after year found expression in demands that their government react more forcefully to what is viewed as illegal Israeli practices that aim to change the Status Quo at al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif and impose spatial and temporal division on the compound. Consequently, the Jordanian government resorted to diplomatic pressure on Israel including by summoning—and conveying a sharp message to—the Israeli chargé d’affaires in Amman, hosting an emergency meeting of the Arab Ministerial Committee, and holding a series of phone calls with Arab, European, and U.N. leaders. Jordan conveyed the same concerns also in a meeting with a senior U.S. delegation that included Yael Lempert and Hady Amr, in a short-notice meeting attended by HM King Abdullah II with the Emirati Crown Prince and their Cairo host, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. As part of stepping up the pressure, in a phone call with President Biden, HM King Abdullah II also discussed the importance of maintaining coordination to prevent the recurrence of violations in Jerusalem that may undermine peace prospects and lead to further escalation. Finally, all this was followed by His Majesty’s April 28 trip to Washington.

In determining its response to the events of April 2022, Jordan seems to have factored its alarm with not only the continued erosion of the Status Quo (and its above-noted domestic ramifications), but also an appreciation of the need to encourage the fragile Israeli coalition to continue—and accelerate the pace—of changing the policies of its predecessor. It is in that context that Jordanians are well aware of the risk that, should a coalition crisis result in the return of previous policies, Netanyahu’s decade-long drive to undermine the Status Quo might see a sequel. It is during those years that Jordan and the Waqf were bypassed, as the role of the Israeli prime minister’s office, national police, border police, and special forces increased in managing the holy shrines. This was not only in contradiction to the specific clause in the peace treaty that acknowledged Jordan’s centrality. Weakening Jordan and the Waqf’s role has also empowered the anti-Jordanian pan-Islamist radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) and enhanced its presence at al-Aqsa, thus affecting the orientation of mosque visitors and activists (who reportedly provoked clashes with visiting Jordanian officials) and adding fuel to the fire. 

Jordan is not naïve about the possibility of securing long-term stability around Jerusalem’s holy sites, Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, or in the region beyond, absent a far more comprehensive effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Likewise, there is no illusion that a solution is readily available. In the interim, dynamics on the ground are met with grave concern, as it seems just a matter of time until Jerusalem forces itself on the regional agenda, and in violent ways yet again. The annual calendar is studded with moments known to create tension. Just to illustrate, marking the unification of Jerusalem, Jewish nationalists opt for provocations the likes of which triggered last year’s violence in the city, clashes between Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens, and an 11-day war with Gaza. Averting such tragedies cannot await a comprehensive peace initiative.

Reflecting that logic, in an interview with CNN, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi introduced the Jordanian formula for addressing tensions in the city through the adoption of short-, medium-, and long-term measures designed to restore calm, address root causes of violence, and get the parties back to the negotiating table. The minister reiterated that this can only be done by respecting the legal and historic Status Quo, as well as the Hashemite custodianship, and by creating a credible political horizon to resolve the Palestinian issue. 

King Abdullah II meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, July 2021

The American envoys reportedly discovered in their meetings in Amman, Jerusalem, and Ramallah that relations between Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials were characterized by miscommunication and lack of coordination. Each seemed to hold a different understanding of what the Status Quo meant. It is in that context that Washington can contribute to local and regional stability by mediating both a clearer appreciation of the Status Quo and a process of its restoration. Washington can be most effective if it does so even prior to the joint Jordanian-Israeli Jerusalem Committee, which reportedly is set to reconvene soon.

An Egyptian Perspective:Firefighting Will Not Achieve Peace

by Hesham Youssef

Cairo, Egypt

The good news is that there are intensive regional and international efforts to avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war. The preventive effort has been extensive, and the U.S. seems to be carefully monitoring the situation. The bad news is the reconfirmation of what most already know: the Israeli-Palestinian Status Quo is volatile and not sustainable. The resulting successive wars only take us many steps further away from peace.

Egyptian efforts have been instrumental in ending almost all the Israel-Gaza wars. Egypt has been continuously monitoring the pulse in the occupied territories, particularly in Gaza, and coordinates closely with Amman and Ramallah on issues pertaining to East Jerusalem.

Rafah, Gaza near the Egyptian border by Kashfi Halford, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (Licensed linked to image)

Egypt knows that Hamas has yet to recover fully from the repercussions of last year’s war in May 2021 and is not keen on facing another one; that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is facing an unprecedented legitimacy and financial crisis; that the Israeli government is fragile, on the verge of collapse, and wants to maintain calm but is constrained by extreme right-wing pressure; and finally, that the U.S. is preoccupied with what it perceives as more pressing priorities and is not dealing effectively with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All these factors contributed to Egypt initiating a flurry of diplomatic efforts to avoid another war.

Like many countries in the region and beyond, Egypt condemned—and demanded an end to—the Israeli escalation in the Palestinian territories and continued incursions by Israelis onto the al-Aqsa Mosque compound under Israeli police protection. Stressing the importance of adhering to international law, Egypt called for the provision of due protection for Palestinian civilians, as well as for ending any practice that violates the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque and other religious sites or affects the identity of East Jerusalem.

The Egyptian president hosted a tripartite summit with Jordan’s King Abdallah and UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. They stressed that their countries would spare no effort to restore calm in Jerusalem and stop all forms of escalation to enable worshipers to perform their religious practices without hindrances or harassment. They called on Israel to stop all measures that undermine the chances of achieving peace, to reach a political horizon, and to return to serious and effective negotiations to resolve the Palestinian question on the basis of the two-state solution and in accordance with international law.

Egypt also participated in the emergency ministerial meeting hosted and chaired by Jordan with representatives from Algeria, Morocco, the PA, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the UAE that condemned the Israeli attacks in al-Haram al-Sharif. The parties warned that these actions represent a blatant provocation to Muslims and threaten to ignite a cycle of violence, and they expressed support for Jordan’s custodianship in administering holy sites. King Abdullah stressed the importance of observing the Status Quo at the Jerusalem holy sites.

However, Egypt was less vocal publicly, preferring to work in a more discreet manner behind closed doors compared to the PA and Jordan, who had sharp public exchanges with Israel.

Egypt conducted private talks with Hamas, including its leadership in Qatar, as well as with the PA and Israel. Egypt indicated to Hamas that the Israeli government is at its weakest and that if Hamas escalates, Israel will strongly attack in order to ensure its political survival and avoid criticism from the extreme right. Cairo expressed the fear that the fall of this government would lead to a more extreme right-wing one. Concurrently, Egypt is convinced that Hamas can calm things down and that violence would hamper the reconstruction of Gaza. Should this happen, the flow of construction materials would cease and Egypt will not issue work permits for construction engineers.

Egypt’s advice to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to issue a joint statement indicating that they do not seek escalation was not heeded. They said that this depends on Israel’s actions in Jerusalem. Stressing that they had no intention to escalate, the two organizations argued that securing calm is up to the Israelis, but they were determined to thwart Israel’s perceived interest in separating Gaza from Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hamas further demanded that Israel allow complete freedom of worship in al-Haram al-Sharif and stop military actions in the Jenin refugee camp. Publicly, both stressed that they had not committed to de-escalate.

Amidst rising tensions, Israel again asked Egypt to pressure Palestinian groups in Gaza to avoid escalation. At the same time, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened that “if they release the gunlock, Israel will come crashing down on them.” Israel said its military was prepared for any eventuality, including attacks from Lebanon and Syria, as well as from Gaza. It was in that context that Egypt asked Israel to release over 400 Palestinians who were arrested during clashes at al-Haram al-Sharif.

All of this followed Egypt hosting an unprecedented tripartite summit (March 2022) with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, only a few months after the Israeli prime minister visited Egypt. Both summits reflected a new chapter in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Likewise, Egypt participated in the Negev Summit (also in March 2022), convened by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and featuring his American, Emirati, Bahraini, Moroccan, and Egyptian counterparts. During all these meetings, participants expressed concern that last year’s violence could erupt again due to tensions surrounding Jerusalem holy sites and Palestinian neighborhoods. More recently, the U.S. sent a senior delegation to Israel, Ramallah, Egypt, and Jordan to de-escalate the situation. The visiting diplomats indicated that the U.S. expressed “the need for all parties to call and work for calm, especially in Jerusalem, and our mutual commitment to a two-state solution.”

Many lessons can be drawn from previous tensions leading to violence. The 11-day war of May 2021 was particularly instructive. It demonstrated that a match lit in Jerusalem can ignite fire far beyond. More broadly, it was a reminder that such matches are scattered way beyond Jerusalem. All this leads to one overarching conclusion: much as the issue of the Status Quo regarding Jerusalem’s holiest site cannot be ignored, so too can’t the Palestinian question be bypassed. Rhetorical commitment to the Status Quo, much like to the two-state solution, must be backed by action. This lesson applies to the U.S. discourse and conduct as much as to anyone else’s. As demonstrated time and again, including in May 2021 and April 2022, looking the other way is not an option. On both these recent occasions, nothing short of U.S. presidential intervention proved sufficient. If Washington wishes to free the president of such burdens, it must empower its diplomats to tend to the Israeli-Palestinian arena in a more robust and regular manner, with a view to reaching understandings on a political horizon or end game definition. Egypt and Jordan are ready and willing to assist in this important undertaking, however long and demanding it is likely to prove. 

Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

About the Authors

Nimrod Novik

Nimrod Novik is Israel Policy Forum’s Israel fellow. The former senior advisor on foreign policy to the late Shimon Peres, Novik is currently a senior associate at the Economic Cooperation Foundation (ECF) and is a member of the Executive Committee at Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS). In addition to Israeli security and political circles, Novik maintains close contacts with the Egyptian intelligence community, Jordanian security establishment, Palestinian political leadership, and Saudi security experts, as well as with senior U.S., European, U.N., and other relevant officials dealing with Middle East policy.

Ibrahim Eid Dalalsha

Ibrahim Eid Dalalsha is a senior political consultant based in the West Bank. Currently, he heads a private think tank in Ramallah, the Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach. Mr. Dalalsha’s former role as senior political advisor at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem spanned two decades. He has been named the State Department’s Foreign Service National of the Year for outstanding political analysis/reporting and extraordinary networking/outreach three times throughout his career. Dalalsha has played an integral role in peace negotiations across the Middle East, including the 2014 ceasefire negotiations held in Cairo, in addition to other  initiatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Farah Bdour

Farah has been the Programs Director at the Amman Center for Peace and Development (ACPD) since 2012. ACPD is a Jordanian thinktank that engages in innovative, relevant, high-quality research and provides policy analysis and recommendations to decision makers, public leaders, and the strategic community, both in Jordan and abroad.

She is the Director of Seeds of Peace Program in Jordan since 2015, having first attended the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine as a Jordanian Delegation Leader in 2014. Seeds of Peace is an American NGO that works on equipping exceptional youth and educators with the skills and relationships to work in solidarity across lines of difference to create more just and inclusive societies.

She is also part of The Middle East Training Team at Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution at Salisbury University; one of the largest academic, practice, and research-based centers in the U.S. that provides innovative and impactful training at the local, national, and international levels for graduate and undergraduate students.

A certified mediator who writes reports about current regional conflicts and has been published in numerous research institute journals.

Hesham Youssef

Ambassador Hesham Youssef was a career diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt. From 2014-2019, he served as assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian, Cultural and Social Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and completed his term in July 2019. From 2001-2014, he served as a senior official in the Arab League, as Official Spokesman and later the Chief of Staff to Secretary General Amr Moussa from 2003- 2011. From 2012-2014, Ambassador Youssef was a Senior Advisor to the Secretary General of the Arab League, Dr. Nabil Elaraby, on issues pertaining to crisis management as well as the reform of the Arab League.