Jerusalem remains the crux of the Palestinian-Israeli issue
East Jerusalem is yet again the focus of simmering tension after a new crisis erupted over Israel’s attempt to control access to Haram al-Sharif, the Muslim holy site known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount.
The restrictions were perceived by Palestinians as another means of encroachment on their internationally recognised territories and by Muslims as an impediment to free access to a sacred site.
What triggered this crisis was Israel’s installation of new security measures, including metal detectors near the entrances to Haram al-Sharif, the site of al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, after a July 14 attack by Arab-Israelis who killed two Israeli policemen outside al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israeli authorities appeared surprised by the outcry provoked by the new measures, which violated previously negotiated arrangements.
Since July 14, six Palestinian civilians have been killed and hundreds injured by Israeli forces during protests in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Three Jewish settlers were killed in the West Bank on July 21.
Even after Israel dismantled its new security apparatus on July 27, clashes continued and hundreds of Palestinians were injured when Muslim worshippers re-entered the compound.
A senior Amnesty International official condemned the firing of stun grenades, tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets as “a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligation to uphold the rights of Palestinians to peaceful assembly.”
The sad reality is that Israel seems to have learned nothing from similar incidents in the past. In September 2015, violence broke out when Palestinians protested Israeli interference within the Haram al-Sharif complex. Just as in the current crisis, Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa. At least 50 people died in the resulting protests, most of them Palestinian.
Not without reason, Palestinians suspect Israeli leaders, especially right-wing extremists, of trying to unilaterally impose their will over Jerusalem’s holy sites, which are sacred to all three Abrahamic faiths. Israeli hardliners, including some in the Israeli government, regard all of Jerusalem, including the predominantly Arab east sector, which Israel captured and annexed in 1967, as its “indivisible capital” but this claim is rejected internationally.
It is dangerously irresponsible for Israel to seize on every opportunity to impose its own fait accompli in such a sensitive and contentious site.
Jerusalem’s status is a fraught issue that cannot be resolved by one party’s diktats. To seek to pre-empt the outcome of the Jerusalem issue before final status negotiations over the entire Palestinian issue is wrong and the world should call Israel out on its behaviour.
Palestinians will continue to vent their frustrations over a brutal occupation that seeks not just to deprive them of their holy sites but of their homeland and of hope itself.
Days of rage and seasons of outrage are not the way forward. It falls on Israel to resolve the crisis over al-Aqsa. As Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned: “Unless Israel acts responsibly, then we’ll be facing another crisis that will push us all towards the abyss.”
Tensions over religious sites in Jerusalem will delay the prospects of Palestinian-Israeli peace, inflame opinion in the Arab and Muslim world and play into the hands of religious extremists. It is past time for Israel to wake up to this reality and behave responsibly.