On March 31, 2013, an agreement that came as a surprise was signed between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan, which solidified Jordan's custodianship of the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem. The daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that the agreement had been signed in total secrecy in the presence of Jordan's King 'Abdallah II, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and the PA and Jordanian ministers of religious endowments.<!--[if ]-->
The agreement states that "His Majesty King 'Abdallah II, as the custodian of the Jerusalem holy sites, will exert all possible efforts to preserve [these] sites, especially Al-Haram Al-Sharif [The Al-Aqsa Mosque]… and to represent their interests." The agreement states further that King 'Abdallah is responsible for ensuring respect for the holy places, guaranteeing the Muslims' freedom of movement to and from the sites, ensuring their maintenance and representing their interests in the international arena.<!--[if ]-->
In practice, the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan has had stewardship over the holy places in Jerusalem since 1924. Even after the Six-Day War and Israel's conquest of East Jerusalem, Jordan continued to play a religious role in Jerusalem's holy places via the East Jerusalem Waqf, which it manages. In 1988 Jordan did disengage itself from the West Bank by "severing its legal and administrative ties" with it, but this disengagement never applied to the holy places in Jerusalem. In 1994 this custodianship was reinforced via a Jordanian declaration that emphasized the kingdom's historic role in Jerusalem's holy places, as well as by the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan where Israel recognizes Jordan's special status in Jerusalem.
In June 2013, Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniya disclosed that Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi plans to hold an international conference in Cairo on the issue of Jerusalem. He added that the issue of Jerusalem was prominent in talks that took place this month in Cairo between Mursi and Hamas representatives, and also in talks between the heads of Hamas and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. The liberal website elaph.com assessed that Mursi has decided to convene the conference in response to the PA-Jordan agreement and with the aim of circumventing it, and that this move could negatively affect Egypt-Jordan relations.<!--[if ]-->
The agreement, then, does not alter the decades-long status quo, under which the Jordanian Waqf manages the affairs of Jerusalem's Islamic holy places in coordination with Israel. Nevertheless, the agreement reinforces Jordan's status in the holy places in a manner that may restrict Israel's freedom of action in Jerusalem.
As the agreement does not constitute a tangible change to the status quo, what then were the motivations for its signing? This report will review these motivations as presented by Palestinian and Jordanian senior officials, commentators and journalists, and they include the desire to step up Jordanian-Palestinian coordination in order to "save" Jerusalem from "The city's Judaization and settlement construction within it"; bypass various parties such as Qatar, Hamas and the Islamic Movement in Israel, who are attempting to usurp Jordan and the PA's role vis-à-vis the holy sites; prepare the ground for a PA-Jordan confederation, and the US intention to reinforce Jordan's role in future negotiations between Israel and the PA.
King 'Abdallah and PA President 'Abbas sign the agreement (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Palestinian Authority, April 3, 2013)
Another hypothesis explaining the signing of the agreement is connected with the visit of President Barack Obama to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that took place a week prior to the agreement's signing, and with the attempts to revive the negotiations in the Middle East. Ibrahim Abrash, a lecturer at Al-Azhar University and a former PA minister, said that the clause in the agreement stipulating that the King will "represent the interests of the holy sites in relevant international forums and competent international organizations," provides Jordan with an important role in future negotiations that will assist President 'Abbas in promoting the Jerusalem issue.<!--[if ]-->