Jordan's King Abdullah meets Israeli PM Netanyahu in Amman

Meeting comes after tension in Jerusalem over visit by Israeli minister to Al Aqsa Mosque

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II. AFP
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Jordan's King Abdullah met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Amman on Tuesday to discuss “respecting the historical and legal status quo in Al Aqsa Mosque”, the Royal Palace said, three weeks after regional tension resurfaced over Israeli action near the site.

It was the first meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister and an Arab leader since Mr Netanyahu returned to power, forming the most right-wing government in Israel's history at the end of last year.

The palace said they discussed the situation in Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque compound and “the importance of respecting the historical and legal status quo”.

Mr Netanyahu, who previously served as prime minister from 2009 to 2021, returned to power last month at the head of a coalition that includes extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. He last met King Abdullah in Jordan in 2018.

In 2019-2020 moves by Mr Netanyahu to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, which did not materialise, prompted Jordan to describe relations with Israel as at a nadir.

Jordan also warned of risks to the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries and has been wary of Mr Netanyahu returning to power.

On January 3, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the sensitive Jordan-administered Jerusalem holy site, sparking a wave of international condemnation.

Mr Netanyahu's office said the Israeli leader discussed “regional issues” and bilateral ties with the Jordanian king.

The two leaders last met in Jordan in 2018.

Tuesday's visit to Amman was Mr Netanyahu's first official trip abroad since taking office.

The Prime Minister was joined by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet domestic security agency, as well as national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Mr Netanyahu's military secretary Avi Gil, an Israeli official said.

Jordan, which has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1994, has kept open channels with previous governments led by Mr Netanyahu and other right-wing Israeli politicians.

But a visit on January 3 by Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to the religious compound housing the Al Aqsa Mosque was strongly condemned by the kingdom, which called it a breach of international law.

Other Arab countries also condemned the visit and a UN Security Council meeting was convened to discuss it, helping to defuse tensions.

In a separate incident last week, Israeli police intercepted Jordan's ambassador on his way to the mosque, leading the Foreign Ministry to summon Israel's ambassador to Jordan.

The palace said the king told Mr Netanyahu about “the need to maintain calm and cease all acts of violence to pave the way for a political horizon for the peace process”.

He “reaffirmed Jordan’s steadfast position in support of the two-state solution, which guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

Jordan said it has custodianship over Al Aqsa, a claim supported by Arab League states and western powers. The mosque and other holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City were captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

The 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, however, states that Israel respects a “special role” for Jordan in Muslim sites in Jerusalem but does not directly endorse the kingdom’s claims of custodianship.

A large proportion of Jordan's 10 million population is of Palestinian origin, descendants of refugees who fled their homes when Israel was created in 1967, and when Israel captured most of historical Palestine in the 1967 war.

Jordanian officials fear a perceived Israeli land grab in East Jerusalem and other occupied territories could eventually prompt another mass migration of Palestinians to the kingdom.

Mr Netanyahu, the veteran hard-line politician, has been a fixture of Israel's political landscape for much of the past 27 years. King Abdullah succeeded his father, the late king Hussein, in 1999.

The intelligence chiefs of Jordan and Israel attended the meeting, as well as Israel's national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, officials from the two countries said.

A handout picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) shows King Abdullah II of Jordan (R) shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior their meeting in Amman on January 16, 2014. Netanyahu made the unannounced visit to neighbouring Jordan for talks with King Abdullah on the Middle East peace process, palace officials said. The rare meeting in Amman comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry presses Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework to guide peace talks forward. AFP PHOTO/ GPO /KOBI GIDEON
Updated: January 25, 2023, 4:38 AM