Associated Press

October 19, 1994

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Reflecting a growing rivalry over Jerusalem, Jordan and the PLO each have appointed Islamic scholars to the respected position of mufti, or chief religious authority, in the holy city.

Both claimants spent Tuesday receiving well-wishers and wearing, for the first time, the traditional dark-blue mufti's robe and red-and-white tarboosh headgear.

But Islamic officials scattered throughout the Old City said they had no idea who's the boss -- PLO-appointed Ikrema Sabri, a 56-year-old former preaching instructor, or Abdel Qader Abdeen, a former religious court judge in his 60s.

said Hamed Abu Tair, an official of the Islamic bureaucracy who had been given some documents to stamp by Abdeen.

Sabri, appointed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Monday, found an office in a renovated stone house outside the walled compound of al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.

He said he feared Jordan's intentions in the city.

Sabri told The Associated Press.

Abdeen, named three hours before his rival by Jordan's King Hussein, works from two rooms in the old Muslim Appeals Court inside the al-Aqsa compound. He refused to comment, slamming his office door on a reporter.

Although Jerusalem muftis have in the past been political figures, the job today entails mostly bureaucracy and advising West Bank Palestinians on Islamic issues such as how to adapt ancient edicts to modern life.

But the wrangle touches on a larger dispute that has been brewing since July, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein announced an end to their countries' 46-year state of war.

Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel in 1967 and has ceded any claims on them to the Palestinians, who seek a state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But Jordan has continued to oversee religious affairs in the areas.

Israel, meanwhile, claims the unified city as its capital.

Palestinians were outraged this week at Israel's promise that Jordan will preserve its special role in the city as part of a peace treaty to be signed between the countries next Wednesday.

They fear it will enable Israel to appear to satisfy Muslim religious concerns while retaining political control in the city.

Arafat said in a statement Tuesday.

He termed the promise an "outrageous infringement" of his own September 1993 peace agreement with Israel, which leaves the status of Jerusalem open until final talks between Israel and the Palestinians, to begin by 1996.

Arafat wasn't the only leader unhappy with the Israel-Jordan accord.

Syrian President Hafez Assad said the formula it used to resolve land disputes would never work with the Golan Heights, which were seized by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel and Jordan decided that the Jewish state would return most of the 152 square miles of border land it seized from Jordan in 1948, but said Israel could lease back areas where there were Israeli settlements or farms.

The Jordan-PLO dispute took on its new dimension with the death last week of the former Jordanian-appointed mufti, Suleiman Jaabari.

Abdel Azim Salhab, who runs Islamic religious sites on behalf of Jordan, said the intra-Arab rivalry left him with one wish: "We ask God to protect Jerusalem."

For ordinary Palestinians, it seemed to matter little who prevailed.