While the normalisation agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is seen by many as a historic peace deal between the two countries, analysts in Jerusalem say it will bring “everything but peace to the region”.
A report by Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli organisation that tracks developments in Jerusalem that could impact political processes or spark violence, says that the phrasing of an initial joint statement between Israel and the UAE raised fears of restrictions to Muslims’ rights to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Israelis as the Temple Mount, while legitimising Jewish prayers there, in violation of a longstanding agreement.
The report looked at a joint statement by the US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 13 August, which said that “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths”.
The ambiguous phrasing led Terrestrial Jerusalem to say that while the statement was most likely trying to convey a major breakthrough whereby Muslims would be allowed to pray at Al-Aqsa, while the status quo at Haram al-Sharif – another Arabic term for the compound – is being maintained, “the truth is precisely the opposite”.
“The joint statement makes the agreement serve as a cover of legitimacy and an approval from an Arab Muslim country to limit the [definition] of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to the al-Qibli prayer hall, and to consider the remaining 93 percent of the mosque’s space a different area,” Ziyad Ibhais, a researcher on Jerusalem affairs, told Middle East Eye. “This would allow Jewish rituals inside the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Ibhaisi added that the US administration considers the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque a “central element of the UAE-Israel agreement”.