Israel and UAE to discuss influx of Gulf tourists to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque
An Israeli official said on Monday that Israel and the United Arab Emirates had set an agenda to discuss bringing thousands of visitors from the Gulf to the occupied Old City of East Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
"Jerusalem will host between 100,000 and 250,000 Muslim tourists a year; they dream of visiting Al-Aqsa," Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told newspaper Israel Hayom.
'Just as we developed Christian tourism, we plan to work to develop Muslim tourism'
- Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
Hassan-Nahoum, who travelled to the Emirates last week, said that “just as we developed Christian tourism, we plan to work to develop Muslim tourism".
"There is a huge turnaround in the works."
According to a longstanding joint guardianship agreement between Israel and Jordan, Amman retains control over Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and manages the religious endowment - or Waqf - that administers the Al-Aqsa compound.
Hayel Daoud, the former Jordanian minister of endowments and religious affairs, told Middle East Eye that Jordanian authorities were “not interested nor aware nor part of these visits' coordination”.
“In principle, we support every Arab and Muslim visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque, to keep it alive with worshippers," Daoud said. "But visits that coordinate with the (Israeli) occupation authorities and are based upon signed deals are not in the interests of Al-Aqsa or the Palestinian people.”
First visits since normalisation deals
On Thursday, a business delegation from Abu Dhabi visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of Israeli police. On Sunday, another informal delegation, allegedly from Dubai, visited the compound.
The UAE delegations had not been granted permission from the Jerusalem Waqf, nor had it notified the endowment of its visit.
These were the first such visits to the historic site since Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed a controversial US-sponsored normalisation deal with Israel on 15 September in Washington DC.
Daoud told MEE that visiting the Al-Aqsa compound in coordination with Israel “gives the occupation a veneer of legitimacy".
"These are unacceptable steps and won’t lead to any benefits,” he added.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem office of the Palestinian Fatah movement said in a statement: “Every visit to Jerusalem that is not in coordination with [the Palestinian leadership] and with the Jordanian and Palestinian Waqf… is an intrusion and not a visit.”
Concerns over the fate of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the three holiest sites in Islam, have risen since the Israel, UAE and Bahrain deals.
Some right-wing Israeli figures have long advocated the destruction of the Muslim compound to make way for a third Jewish temple, as the Al-Aqsa compound is believed by Jews to be built where the first and second Jewish temples once stood.
Palestinians fear Emirati and Israeli settler tours inside the Al-Aqsa compound may erode their claims to the area, and further extinguish their aspirations for full rights and a state of their own, with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.