Jordanian king begins rare West Bank trip seen as message to Israel

Jordan’s king flew by helicopter to the West Bank on Monday for a rare visit seen as a signal to Israel that he is closing ranks with the Palestinians on key issues, such as the contested Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Abdullah II met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in his first visit to the West Bank in five years.

Palestinian officials said the meeting would last a few hours and that the Jordanian ruler and PA president would discuss efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, stalled since 2014.

The monarch’s visit comes after a spike in Jordanian-Israeli tensions over the Temple Mount, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and a deadly shooting incident involving an Israeli embassy guard in Amman. He is not scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the trip.

A July 14 terror attack on the Mount, in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using guns they had smuggled into the holy site, prompted Israel to install metal detectors and other security measures there. The new Israeli measures prompted the Waqf Islamic trust, which administers the site on behalf of Jordan, to announce a boycott that devolved into nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, left, speaks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmuod Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad GHARABLI)

The strain in ties between Israel and Jordan was exacerbated by an incident that saw an Israeli guard at the embassy compound in Amman shoot dead two Jordanian men, one of whom had attacked him with a screwdriver.

Jordan was seen as playing a central role in resolving the Temple Mount standoff by releasing the guard to Israel, which then removed the metal detectors. Israel later rolled back other security measures as well amid massive Arab pressure, after almost two weeks of violent protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

When Netanyahu warmly greeted the guard upon his return to Israel, Abdullah said there would be diplomatic consequences. The king also said last week that Jordan was continuing to push for the prosecution of the guard.

Abdullah’s role as Muslim custodian of the Jerusalem shrine is a key component of his legitimacy. Last week he announced that he would donate 1 million Jordanian dinars ($1.4 million) to the Waqf, which is funded by Amman.

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