United States President Joe Biden has underlined his support for the legal “status quo” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a meeting at the White House with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
In a private lunch with the king and Crown Prince Hussein on Thursday, Biden referred to growing tensions around the site – venerated both by Muslims and Jews in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem – and reaffirmed “the critical need to preserve the historic status quo”.
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Under a longstanding agreement, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times but are not allowed to pray there. Jordan was recognised as the custodian of the compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.
In recent years, a growing number of Jews, most of them Israeli nationalists, have covertly prayed at the site, angering Palestinians.
That is despite a mainstream Jewish restriction on Jewish prayer in the compound.
In January, the national security minister in Israel’s new far-right government, Itamar Ben-Gvir, entered the site, sparking a torrent of international condemnation, with Palestinians fearful of any change in the long-term status of a location they regard as a national symbol.
Jordan, which runs the Waqf Department – the exclusive authority supervising holy sites in Jerusalem – last month said the Jordanian ambassador had been prevented from entering the site.
Biden recognised Jordan’s “crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem”, the White House said in a statement, and reaffirmed the close friendship between the US and the Hashemite Kingdom.
He also reiterated his “strong support for a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thanked King Abdullah for “the role he and Jordan play as a force for stability in the Middle East”.
However, Biden did not express any serious criticism of the Israeli position, despite what observers regard as the new far-right government’s increasingly hostile policies towards Palestinians, and the escalating violence in the occupied West Bank.
Instead, media reports have said the US has put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on Palestinian armed groups, with little emphasis on Israeli military raids, which have killed at least 200 Palestinians in the last year.
US commitment to Iraq
Biden also spoke by phone on Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani “to reaffirm US commitment to Iraq”, the White House said.
Biden hailed al-Sudani’s “efforts to strengthen Iraq’s sovereignty and independence” and expressed support for the country’s “economic agenda and plans to ensure that Iraq’s economy is delivering for the Iraqi people”.
Biden and al-Sudani stressed their commitment to keeping ISIL (ISIS) from being able to “threaten the Iraqi people or regional and international security”.
King Abdullah also reiterated “Jordan’s support for Iraq, including through joint strategic infrastructure projects”.