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Jordan’s king says he is prepared for conflict should the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites change as Israel prepares to swear in what is likely to be the most right-wing government in its history.
King Abdullah II told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an exclusive interview this month that there is “concern” in his country about those in Israel trying to push for changes to his custodianship of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, warning that he has “red lines.”
“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” he said. “I always like to believe that, let’s look at the glass half full, but we have certain red lines… And if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”
Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming government is expected to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history and it includes controversial figures who were once considered to be on the extreme fringe of Israeli politics. This has caused concerns about the potential for an escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence and for the future of Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors and Western allies.
This year was already the deadliest for Palestinians and Israelis in nearly two decades, raising the specter of a new Palestinian uprising against Israel.
“We have to be concerned about a next intifada (uprising),” said the king. “And if that happens, that’s a complete breakdown of law and order and one that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will benefit from. I think there is a lot of concern from all of us in the region, including those in Israel that are on our side on this issue, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war but signed a peace treaty with it in 1994 under which it formally recognized Amman’s special role at the city’s holy sites. But the two have since had an uneasy relationship, with Jordan regularly accusing Israel of violating the agreement that gave it control of the sites and barred non-Muslims from praying there.
Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy has been the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites since 1924 and sees itself as the guarantor of the religious rights of Muslims and Christians in the city.
Tensions are highest over the compound known to Muslims as the Haram Al Sharif, which is called the Temple Mount by Jews. The site includes the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The area is also the holiest site in Judaism. Politicians on the Israeli right often argue that Jews should also have a right to pray there.
One of the most controversial figures in Israel’s incoming government is Itamar Ben Gvir, who is set to become the national security minister and assume control over the police, including law enforcement at Jerusalem’s holy sites. Ben Gvir has a long history of inciting violence against Palestinians and Arabs. He has been convicted of inciting anti-Arab racism and supporting terrorism and has openly called for changing the status quo at the holy sites.
“I don’t think those individuals are under just a Jordanian microscope. They’re under an international microscope,” the king said, responding to a question about Ben Gvir’s views. “I have to believe that there’s a lot of people in Israel also that are concerned as much as we are.”
He refused to say how Jordan would respond to changes in the status of the holy sites. “At the end of the day, the Israeli people have the right to pick whoever they want to lead them… We will work with anybody and everybody as long as we can bring people together,” he said.
Of Jordan’s population of around 10 million, more than half is of Palestinian descent, including more than