Jordan-Israel declaration on holy shrines angers PLO

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

BY asserting a major role for King Hussein in determining the final status of Jerusalem, the Washington Declaration dealt a serious blow to the Palestinian claim of sovereignty over the holy city, according to Jordanian and Palestinian analysts here.

The Washington Declaration was seen here to signal Jordanian acceptance of a solution for Jerusalem based on international religious supervision by the custodians of the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish holy sites, rather than a political resolution.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), based in the autonomous area of the Gaza Strip, responded swiftly to the Declaration, accusing Israel of violating the September Palestinian self-rule agreement under which both parties pledged not to take steps to prejudice the final status of Jerusalem. ``Israel has no right to grant any party jurisdiction over the holy sites in Jerusalem.... It is an occupying power and cannot defer such rights to anyone,'' a Palestinian spokesman said on behalf of the PA.

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The Washington Declaration recognized King Hussein as the legitimate custodian of the Islamic holy shrines in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, and pledged ``to give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in the shrines,'' at the final status negotiations.

Political analysts in Jordan believe that the Israeli acceptance of Jordan's role in determining the future of the Islamic shrines in Jerusalem was crucial for King Hussein's agreement to end the state of war and begin normalizing relations with Israel.

But the Declaration has further fueled an already seething conflict between King Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat over East Jerusalem.

Though the Declaration only mentions the holy sites, the third in importance in the Muslim world, Palestinians say it amounted to a Jordanian acceptance of Israeli jurisdiction over Jerusalem, which, they say, undermines their claim to the holy city.

Mr. Arafat has repeatedly said that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state. According to PLO officials, Arafat was infuriated by that aspect of the Washington Declaration and fears that it is a step toward restoring King Hussein's claim to the whole West Bank.

Jordan had ruled the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from 1950 until the Israeli-Arab war of 1967, when Israel captured it.

But Jerusalem always had special significance for King Hussein. As a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, custody of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque is an important source of political legitimacy. The king recently personally financed an $8-million restoration of the 1,300-year-old Dome of the Rock.

Hussein was particularly angered when Arafat agreed to leave Jerusalem to the final status negotiations as part of the historic Palestinian self-rule agreement. Jordanian officials have openly and privately criticized the PLO for delaying negotiations over Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials argue that by not supporting Palestinian claims, and reducing the issue of Jerusalem to religious jurisdiction, Jordan is denying the Arab identity of Jerusalem.

They cite the Washington Declaration's joint Jordanian-Israeli pledge to act together to promote interfaith relations among the three religions as a tacit agreement by Jordan to place Jerusalem under international administration.

The Washington Declaration has baffled many observers, including the king's staunch loyalists. ``Jordan does not need an Israeli recognition of its role, why should Jordan seek recognition of its custody from the occupier,'' asked a former Jordanian senior minister, who served in several governments.

But what most analysts fear now is that the Jordanian-Israeli agreement over Jerusalem will deepen the friction between Jordan and the Palestinians, and further fan the Islamic and leftist opposition.

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