Israel seeks to curb Turkish influence in Jerusalem with move on Al Aqsa

Israel is seeking to sideline Turkish influence in Palestine as it normalises relations with Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the Middle East Monitor (MEMO).

The leaders of the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco are being urged to demand a role in the supervision of holy sites in Jerusalem under recent normalisation agreements, according to MEMO, which has been criticised for taking favourable positions towards Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in the past.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seen as being close to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey’s cultural influence among Sunni Palestinians has been rising in recent years. Gulf monarchies tend to look at Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to their domestic political systems.

Al-Aqsa, one of the holiest mosques in Islam, is currently under the administration of the Jordanian/Palestinian-led Islamic Waqf (“Foundation”). In June, Jerusalem's grand mufti Ekrima Sa'id Sabri said the Waqf was losing control of the management of Al-Aqsa Mosque to Israel, according to The New Arab. One of the main gates to the compound is under Israeli control.

It was through this gate that a delegation from the UAE visited Al-Aqsa on Oct. 18. The visit was criticised by Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, who said “Al-Aqsa Mosque shall be entered through the gate of its owners,” referring to Jordanian and Palestinian authorities, “not through the gate of the Israeli occupation”.

Pro-government Turkish news website Daily Sabah said that the normalisation deals with Gulf Arab states allowed their governments to claim that they improved access to Al-Aqsa for Muslims. However, the Turkish government is also no stranger to using the mosque as a political football, with president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claiming earlier this year that following the re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, Turkey would “liberate” Al-Aqsa from Israeli control.

In July, Turkey's Ankara Civil Society Platform (ASTP) called for the establishment of a global forum for administering the holy site. Jordan, meanwhile, is also concerned that its control of Al-Aqsa is slipping away, and has sought to reiterate its influence amid speculation that an Israeli-Saudi normalisation deal could also mean that Saudi Arabia gains some level of control over the site.