Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a culmination of the US policy shift toward adopting the stance of the Israeli Right on Jerusalem and its holy sites, where the Deal of the Century has advanced the Israeli control over al-Aqsa Mosque and its division as part of the final solution. This has provided a cover for a wide Israeli aggression against al-Aqsa, targeting its restoration and management authority, limiting the role of the Islamic Endowment to managing only the Islamic presence in the Mosque, imposing public Jewish prayers in it, and seizing its southwestern corner, the Gate of Mercy (Bab al-Rahmah) and the eastern region.
In return, the Palestinian and Jerusalemite popular action was the central force that slowed down this aggression, halted it at times and forced its retreat at others, paralleled by wide official weak Arab and Jordanian stances. With this scene, and in light of employing the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine popular will, there are four scenarios related to al-Aqsa Mosque, either relative retreat, maintaining the status quo, comprehensive retreat or comprehensive confrontation.
First: The Shift in the US Position Until the Deal of the Century was Unveiled
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the US Embassy was a milestone and a remarkable change in the US political cover for the Israeli occupation of the city. The shift in the US position has reached a peak with the adoption of the stance of the Zionist Right as demonstrated in Trump’s announcement of the Deal of the Century. This new cover was invested by Israel to impose new realities on the ground in al-Aqsa Mosque, while being faced with popular action, which Israel has been trying to strike and undermine.
The US position toward Jerusalem has witnessed gradual change throughout history. At first, it embraced a reserved position regarding the annexation of the city, a stance it has inherited from Britain, the former sponsor of the Zionist project, while now, it has adopted the Zionist Right’s stance on Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites, even overpassing it at times.
On 13/12/1949, David Ben-Gurion announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and on 23/1/1950 the Knesset reiterated this announcement through a law providing for establishing a government complex and a Knesset building in Jerusalem.  The US did not recognize this step and did not move its embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem. Rather, it kept a distance from the Israeli moves despite the total cover it gave to the Zionist project as was evident in its voting patterns that allowed the passage of Security Council Resolutions 237 , 242 , 252 , 271 , 425 , and 478 . This position was revealed through the UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which proposed dividing Palestine into Arab and Jewish states with Jerusalem as a separate entity to be governed by a special international regime. It is an extension of the British policy established by the Peel Commission in 1937, which recommended dividing Palestine into two states, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem remaining under a permanent British mandate.
After that, the US position witnessed a gradual shift the first stage of which began in 1995, when the Congress decided to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. It was followed by a gradual change in the State Department’s discourse considering the “Temple Mount” as a basic term when referring to al-Aqsa Mosque, as demonstrated in its International Religious Freedom Report, issued in 2010, criticizing the Israeli policy which “denies religious freedom at the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims.”  The change was also stressed in the understandings announced in Amman by the then Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he mentioned the “Temple Mount” eight times with the term preceding “Haram al-Sharif” in five of them.  Ultimately, Kerry created an equation that “it is Muslims who pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and non-Muslims who visit,”  thus making the visit a right for non-Muslims regardless of the will of the Islamic body responsible for al-Aqsa.
The Trump administration crowned the US shift toward Jerusalem with the decision to recognize it as the capital of Israel on 6/12/2017, and relocate the US embassy on 14/5/2018. Further shift was when Ambassador David Friedman and the US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt besides the prominent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham inaugurated an excavation site in Silwan on 30/6/2019, where Friedman considered the excavation “an American heritage.”  Then, there was the Deal of the Century, on 28/1/2020, entitled “Peace for Prosperity.” It included pages on the biblical discourse on Jerusalem, adopting the stance of the Zionist Right toward al-Aqsa as revealed in two points:
1. Considering Israel the exclusive safeguard of the holy sites and of al-Aqsa: “The State of Israel is to be commended for safeguarding the religious sites of all” and “this practice should remain.”  Hence, without any hint to the Islamic Endowment or Jordan or any other body, which makes the fate of these bodies depend on the Israeli will according to Trump’s plan.
2. Adopting the division of al-Aqsa as the final accepted solution and allowing non-Muslims to perform their rituals in the Mosque: “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”  Notably, the last sentence keeps the door open for more Israeli expansion under the pretext of respecting “other religious factors.”
Reaching the Deal of the Century and the attempts to present it have consumed most of the first term of US President Donald Trump. Moreover, the internal Israeli political crisis prolonged that period by 18 months until Trump was forced to present it to both; the head of the Israeli caretaker government and the opposition leader, hoping to convince them to unite on its basis after the elections, and he almost failed. The complexity of the COVID-19 crisis and the protests against Trump further blurred the scene, thus he had to ease the pressure off the implementation of the plan and try to focus on the upcoming elections and his second term. Apparently, if he won a second term, it would have decisive effect on the fate of the Deal of the Century, for it is a mixture of a right-wing Republican vision and a personal vision of Trump and his family. Therefore, it is difficult to maintain the plan as a US strategic vision of the conflict.
Second: Israeli Employment of the US Position Change
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has strengthened the Zionist National-Religious Right that has put the construction of the Temple in place of al-Aqsa and over its entire area at the heart of the Israeli goals, after it was on their sidelines. It has advanced an agenda seeking to divide al-Aqsa Mosque temporally and spatially until it would be seized. The Israeli government has tried to benefit from the US cover to make achievements at the Gate of Mercy in February 2019, however, it was met with popular stance which forced its retreat. It also tried to confiscate the Endowments’ powers of restoration, as it has begun a long process of restoration of al-Aqsa’s southwestern wall in January 2019, which continues to this day with reports of penetration into the southwestern platform through holes made in the wall.  The Israeli authorities then tried to impose the supremacy of the Jewish definition of the Mosque over its Islamic definition by considering the Jewish holidays occasions to raid the place, even if they intersected with Islamic occasions. This has happened when the Mosque was stormed on the 28th of Ramadan on Sunday 2/6/2019.  Then, in Eid al-Adha, on 11/8/2019,  when Netanyahu’s office spread false news that Netanyahu has decided to prevent the storming. However, when the Muslim worshippers left the Mosque, the PM office withdrew the news, allowing settlers to raid al-Aqsa under the protection of the Israeli Special Forces. 
In September 2019, the priority was for imposing Jewish prayers in the Mosque, where the period witnessed Israeli raids and group prayers. However, Palestinian popular response came after a few months with the Great Dawn campaign from December 2019 to March 2020. The spread of the COVID-19 epidemic was exploited by the occupation authorities to impose an extended closure of al-Aqsa Mosque lasting for 69 days from 22/3–31/5/2020, which is the longest closure since the Crusades. During the closure, the Mosque lost its popular cover and Israel worked to establish realities it could not impose throughout 52 years. It closed all gates except two, and isolated the Endowments administration in al-Manjakia School where al-Majilis Gate, separating it from al-Aqsa, remained closed. Also, the Israeli police acted as the authority there; preventing or allowing the Endowments employees according to their work location and time, based on a list leaked to the police from the Endowments. 
Remarkably, al-Aqsa was closed for three days, following Netanyahu’s announcement of emergency measures  and this was days after the Israeli National Security Council decided to limit the number of persons in houses of worship to 20. Also, opening al-Aqsa came after the same council agreed to open places of worship, and ease restrictions on gatherings in open spaces, where these decisions asserted the Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa. Amidst this scene, leaks emerged about a secret agreement between the Jordanian Foreign Ministry and its Israeli counterpart, which, if true, would reveal a bigger and deeper loss. 
Upon opening al-Aqsa Mosque, the Israeli authorities were keen to impose equality and “simultaneous opening,”  a new policy which started from the corridors of the Supreme Court, and upon which the police made a commitment to open al-Aqsa for settlers once it was opened for Muslims. Thus, once the Mosque was opened, the Israeli police began imposing a set of new practices: they would evacuate a path before the settlers raid the Mosque, and they have resumed targeting the Gate of Mercy by arresting the worshippers there and beating them.  Also, Temple groups began to work to strengthen their influence there, demanding to allow them to raid al-Aqsa on Saturdays.  For they wanted the Mosque on Saturdays to be exclusively for Jews. They also wanted to enhance their presence in the western side of al-Aqsa at the Western Arches of the Dome of the Rock,  in apparent pursuit of seizing the Chain and Moroccan Gates.
Reading these developments and by speculating their goals, it could be said that the Israeli government and Temple organizations are working to redefine al-Aqsa as a common holy site for Muslims and Jews through the four following courses:
1. Defining the function and powers of the Islamic Endowments in Jerusalem as a manager of the “Islamic presence in al-Aqsa,” rather than al-Aqsa itself as an Islamic holy site, alongside another body which manages the presence of non-Muslims in it.
2. Empowering Jews to perform full rituals in al-Aqsa.
3. Reclosing the Gate of Mercy and resuming the course of spatial division.
4. Expanding the scope of Jewish presence temporally on Saturdays and spatially through seizure of the Chain Gate and its surrounding besides the southwestern platform.
This analysis should not neglect Netanyahu’s personal aspiration to record a lasting achievement in his name, especially after he had become the longest-serving prime minister in the history of Israel, and in light of the electoral and judicial challenges threatening his rule. Thus, he set 7/1/2020 as the date for imposing annexation, mainly driven by this personal motive, while the change of facts in al-Aqsa and the imposition of a permanent Jewish presence there constitute a similar temptation. Such an achievement may be the culmination of the annexation step if implemented, or a compensation for it if impeded. In both cases, the aggression against al-Aqsa is continuous, which could be further reinforced if the annexation was impeded, not to mention the relative effect of the stability of the Israeli internal political situation.
Third: The Deterioration of the Jordanian Position and the Faltering of the Arab Position
With the change of the US position, Jordan was stuck with the dilemma of the Wadi Araba Treaty, which gave Israel an authentic status by which it respects and guarantees the Jordanian role,  and which made the current Jordanian role in al-Aqsa temporary. For the treaty has recognized the need to redefine Jordan’s role in any final solution, a quest perceived by the Israelis today in the Deal of the Century. The treaty did not fortify that role by referring to any international legal decisions such as Security Council Resolution 271 of 1969, and did not refer to any arbitration formula in case of disagreement. The Wadi Araba predicament was reinforced by the revolutions and changes in the Arab region, and Jordan’s further reliance on US support, while getting politically closer to Israel through the benefiting from the Port of Haifa,  the joint free zone in the northern Jordan Valley,  the project to employ Jordanians in Eilat,  the gas agreement which establishes for a strategic dependence in energy  and the attempt to push the Red Sea – Dead Sea Water Conveyance project. 
As a result, this situation led to a Jordanian retreat for every Israeli progress in al-Aqsa supported by US. Thus, Israel has seized the powers to restore the walls of the Mosque for the first time in January 2019 and was met with mere statements of condemnation by the Endowments Ministry and the Endowments of Jerusalem. Then, on 29/5/2019, it seized the authority to restore the Jumblatt Solitude Place, which it has occupied since 1982 as a police headquarters, while Jordan issued clarifications of some Awqaf scholars.  In February 2019, the Endowments administration tried to replace a lock with another on 19/2/2019 in an attempt to end the tension over the Gate of Mercy without popular escalation,  keeping the door open for negotiations over its fate to this day. Moreover, it organized the closure and opening of al-Aqsa during the COVID-19 pandemic through an agreement with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which the Minister of Endowments revealed to a number of MPs on various occasions,  but was later forced to shyly deny it after its exposure.  Lastly, there was the circular issued by the Director of Endowments on 28/7/2020—preceding a wide violation against al-Aqsa on 30/7/2020—preventing the Endowments employees and guards from publishing any news about the Mosque except with his written consent.  This has provided a cover of secrecy for this violation, whose central goal was to impose collective Jewish prayers, where field sources have revealed 30 cases of prostration by Jews on the ground of al-Aqsa, and more than 45 loud collective prayers.
Fourth: The Popular Response and its Confusion During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Popular response was the only line of action facing Israeli violations, the US cover and Arab deterioration. This has been demonstrated in several contemporary events from the Tunnel Uprising 1996 and al-Aqsa Intifadah 2000, to the experience of institutional Ribat until 2015, the Knife Intifadah 2015, Lion’s Gate Uprising 2017, the Gate of Mercy Uprising 2019, and the Great Dawn campaign in early 2020. The latter was an escalatory and cross-border action interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic that was exploited by the Israeli occupation to undermine popular movement in Jerusalem. Thus, it isolated regions from each other and started an arrest campaign in neighborhoods, administrative detention, banning from Jerusalem and court trials. That period of “forced” popular latency was ideal to decode popular movement within an environment conducive for the occupation.
Then, successive Arab retreats have formed a psychological blow to the popular movement, while the confusion caused by the Jordanian official position and that of the Endowments undermined the cohesion of the internal front. It is possible to say that the Jerusalem popular action today is facing an existential threat. However, historic experience reveals that this movement has been able to overcome such challenges; for the undermining of factions was faced with institutional Ribat, then individual action came to fill the void caused by the prohibition of institutional action in 2015, thus wide popular movement were seen in the Lion’s Gate Uprising and the Gate of Mercy Uprising besides the Great Dawn campaign. To face the existential challenge in al-Aqsa, the Palestinian popular action remains the only likely answer.
Fifth: The Expected Scenarios of al-Aqsa Mosque Scene
Based on the previous analysis, there are five basic factors that influence the development of al-Aqsa Mosque scene: the persistence of the US position (if Trump won a second term), an Israeli escalation (where the stability of the internal political scene has a relative effect), the Palestinian popular action, the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the development of the Arab position, in general, and the Jordanian position in particular given its special role in al-Aqsa. Accordingly, there are four possible scenarios, summarized as follows:
|First: Relative retreat in al-Aqsa||1. The election of a democratic president, or an election crisis in the US.
2. The stability of the Israeli government.
3. The lack of a widespread popular act.
4. A second wave of the pandemic.
5. Arab retreat being limited to peripheral countries.
|• Possible closure of Gate of Mercy.
• Imposing wider Jewish rituals.
• Development of seasonal violations without imposing additional steps
|Second: Maintaining the status quo||1. The election of a democratic president, or an election crisis in the US.
2. Israeli internal crisis.
3. Limited popular movement.
4. Stopping of Arab collapse.
|Expansion of seasonal violation of al-Aqsa without establishing permanent gains.|
|Third: Comprehensive retreat||1. Stable second term for Trump.
2. The stability of the Israeli government.
3. The lack of wide popular action.
4. The KSA publicly joining the scene of Arab collapse.
5. A second wave of the pandemic.
|• Closing Gate of Mercy.
• Enforcing Saturday as a day for Jews.
• The likelihood of imposing Jewish presence in the southwestern region of al-Aqsa.
• The transformation of the Islamic Endowment into a body managing Islamic worship in the Mosque.
• Moving to close other buildings in al-Aqsa.
|Fourth: Comprehensive popular confrontation
(the scenario could develop from the third to the fourth)
|The central determinant is the outbreak of popular action at a spontaneous favorable moment, where the hardest conditions in the above scenario could enhance this trend. To this could be added if a void in the PA leadership occurs with the death of Mahmud ‘Abbas.||Imposing limited or comprehensive retreat on the Israelis in al-Aqsa, and the West Bank in general, depending on the severity, breadth and duration of the act. The involvement of Palestinians in the 1948 occupied territories and the Gaza Strip in this confrontation.|
The scenarios are arranged according to their probability, so the most probable is the first followed by the less reaching to the least probable. However, the scene in the region is characterized by a large number of variables and speed of events, and the possibility for the scene to develop into scenarios outside expectations remains intact.
1. The need to understand the importance of al-Aqsa confrontations, where the Mosque is central when liquidating the identity of the Palestine issue, and the importance of the role of the Palestinian political elite to prevent such liquidation.
2. The need and urgent priority to support popular action in Jerusalem by all Palestinian components inside and outside Palestine, as well as by all Arab and Islamic forces.
3. The need to enhance the independent position of religious authorities in Jerusalem.
 Site of The Knesset, http://www.knesset.gov.il/review/ReviewPage.aspx?kns=1&lng=3
 A resolution, which considers the Palestinian territories seized by Israel in 1967 as occupied territories to which the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 applies. The US supported the resolution. See United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 237 (1967) of 14 June 1967, S/RES/237 (1967), 14/6/1967, https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/E02B4F9D23B2EFF3852560C3005CB95A
 A resolution demanding Israel to withdraw from territories (“the territories” in the Arabic version) it occupied in 1967. The US supported the resolution. See United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967, S/RES/242 (1967), 22/11/1967 https://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/7D35E1F729DF491C85256EE700686136
 A decision considering all changes Israel made to change the legal status of Jerusalem null and void and cannot change that status. The US abstained from voting. See United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 237 (1967) of 14 June 1967, S/RES/237 (1967), 14/6/1967.
 A resolution condemning the burning of al-Aqsa Mosque, holding Israel responsible for it, and demanding that the Supreme Islamic Council be able to restore al-Aqsa Mosque in cooperation with Islamic countries or societies with an Islamic majority. The US abstained from voting. See United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 271 (1969) of 15 September 1969, S/RES/271 (1969), 15/9/1969, https://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/35941B603B4459B8852560C50061DC5E
 A resolution condemning the settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and considering all their consequences as null and void. The US abstained from voting. See United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 425 (1978) of 19 March 1978, S/RES/425 (1978), 19/3/1978 https://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/E25DAE8E3CE54FB5852560E50079C708
 The resolution refused the declaration of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of Israel and considered it null and void. The US abstained from voting. See United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 478 (1980) of 20 August 1980, S/RES/478 (1980), 20/8/1980, https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/DDE590C6FF232007852560DF0065FDDB
 International Religious Freedom Report 2010, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,
In previous years, the report adopted an introduction starting with the Muslim followed by the Jewish conviction about the place with reversed order of terms “Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount.” See the same report for 2009 at: https://2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2009/127349.htm
 Remarks, John Kerry Secretary of State, Amman Marka Airport, Amman, Jordan, October 24, 2015, U.S. Department of State,
 Haaretz newspaper, 30/6/2019,
 Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, White House, January 2020, p. 16,
 Site of Aljazeera.net, 17/7/2020, https://aja.me/ndrtu
 Site of Aljazeera.net, 2/6/2019, https://aja.me/ujdff
 Site of Aljazeera.net, 11/8/2019, https://aja.me/nwmms
 Site of The Times of Israel, 11/8/2019,
 Site of Arabi21, 9/5/2020, https://arb.im/1268876
 Haaretz, 19/3/2020,
 Site of Arabi21, 11/5/2020, https://arb.im/1269414
Israel Hayom newspaper, 28/5/2020,
 See, for example, Israeli police aggression against five girls in Gate of Mercy, Site of Aljazeera.net, 21/6/2020. https://aja.me/vfehy
 Netanyahu commented on this demand in a formula closer to a promise in a meeting with Temple groups after the March 2020 elections, which saw the right-wing bloc’s failure to secure a majority: “I could have won the elections had I agreed to Jews’ entry to the Temple Mount on Saturdays.” See The Times of Israel, 7/3/2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/three-short-of-majority-netanyahu-says-he-won-election-not-going-anywhere/
 Site of Aljazeera.net, 16/7/2020, https://aja.me/gjvjf
 The Jordanian role in Jerusalem was redefined by virtue of Article 9 (2) which said, “In this regard, in accordance with the Washington Declaration, Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.” See http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/peacetreaty.html
 Site of Ammon, 4/2/2013, https://www.ammonnews.net/article/144005
 Site of Arabi21, 5/2/2019. https://arb.im/1157537
 AlMamlaka TV, 8/3/2019. https://www.almamlakatv.com/news/15442
 The terms of the agreement were kept secret for years until Saleh al-Armouti, a member of the Jordanian parliament, revealed them. See site of 7iber, 4/8/2019, https://www.7iber.com/politics-economics/%D8%A8%D9%86%D9%88%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%BA%D8%A7%D8%B2/
 AlMamlaka TV, 19/11/2019, https://www.almamlakatv.com/news/29434
 Site of Arabi21, 29/5/2019, https://arb.im/1184273
 Site of Aljazeera.net, 19/2/2019, https://aja.me/9kx3x
 Declarations by relevant MPs to the Institution.
 Site of AlMamlaka TV, 18/5/2020, https://www.almamlakatv.com/news/39557
 Circulation no. 1/4/18/1210 on 28/7/2020 issued by the General Director of Jerusalem Endowment and al-Aqsa Affairs Department.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Al-Quds International Institution’s researchers for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 21/8/2020
Leave A Comment