Even as individual Palestinians continue to engage in stabbing attacks against Israelis — outside of a school in Beit Shemesh, on the campus of Ariel University among others — the big news to emerge from the Middle East last weekend was about an apparent agreement between Israel and Jordan to install security cameras on the Temple Mount. The constant surveillance, it was explained, would calm tensions at a flashpoint site, where unsubstantiated rumors of an Israeli attempt to change the decades-long status quo sparked the daily violence we’ve seen since the Jewish New Year.
This new development was evidently hammered out in the latest iteration of Secretary of State John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy. First, he met in Berlin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then discussed the issue in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. But what is noteworthy isn’t the plan itself — the Jewish state already operates 24-hour cameras at the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa mosque, where anyone can visit, but only Muslims can pray. What’s interesting, instead, is that this agreement, although not revolutionary in substance, is being treated as a game-changer at all.
Kerry has called the cameras a “first step.” But if the cameras are already there, we wonder whether the real transitional element is a greater role for Jordan in stabilizing, if not solving, the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Although the Hashemite kingdom to Israel’s east is weak and cautious, it has a large Palestinian population and has long feared that Palestinian unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank could spread across the border and overthrow its monarchy. Put simply, Jordan shares a very real interest with Israel in mitigating the effects and controlling the causes of a restive Palestinian population.
Jordan’s long-standing peace treaty with Israel confers on the kingdom the custodianship of the Temple Mount, making King Abdullah a natural participant in any Temple Mount resolution. And although the Palestinians are reportedly very suspicious of the camera agreement, news of the deal came after Kerry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, so presumably no one was caught off guard. Taken as a whole, it seems that Jordan’s star has risen in the whole affair, perhaps farther than that of Abbas.
The noteworthy development in this process is not the cameras. Rather, the real news appears to be the very process that brought about the announcement. By working through another entity with a vested interest in the outcome, it appears that negotiators have realized that a regional effort may be necessary in order to advance an Israel-Palestinian agreement. A greater role for Jordan in that regional effort is a logical first step.