By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

We are in the headlines again


Every day there are violent demonstrations on the borders of several Arab neighborhoods. “Violence” means stones, fireworks, and firebombs thrown at the ranks of Border Police, who respond with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and real bullets on occasion. There have been Palestinian casualties and minor to moderate injuries among the police. A Border Police officer was killed in one of the two incidents of Palestinians driving into pedestrians. The drivers died in a local version of suicide by cop. 

Palestinians say that the upsurge is the result of Israeli threats against Al Aqsa Mosque, which is one of the sites throughout the Middle East that competes for the title of the third most holy place in Islam. Some say it is a rebellion of young men from lower income neighborhoods who see no future in Israeli domination and discrimination.

The Palestinian leadership has called for the onset of a holy war to stop the threat against Islam, and the Jordanian government has asked the UN Security Council to condemn Israeli incursions against Islam’s holy place.

The Hashemite family has a historic claim to being the guardians of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, and the king’s government may be acting largely to keep quiet among its own restive population. As much as 70 percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian. An unknown number are inclined to extremism, ISIS is just over the borders in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is cooperating with the Americans, and worried that it might become the next battleground.

In all of this, a few Jews, including Knesset Members of Likud and Jewish Home, walk demonstrably on the Temple Mount and demand the right to pray or to construct the Third Temple. They are all that is necessary to provide Palestinians and Jordanians reason to proclaim what may enhance their own survival.

Turkish President Erdogan is never far from the stage, joining the clamor to censure or sanction Israel for its “ungodly” actions.

Israelis are quarreling as to whether the Third Intifada has actually begun, or if the incidents mostly in Jerusalem are the more limited actions of individuals and youth gangs acting on their own, with incitement coming from Hamas and other extremists.

A Palestinian who drove into a cluster of soldiers near Gush Etzion was initially described as another terrorist, but subsequent reports say that it may have been an accident that became a case of hit and run. The driver turned himself in after a few hours. He claims, with some credibility, that if he had stopped at the scene the soldiers would have killed him.

With all that is threatening, it is appropriate to weigh several contrary indications. Surveys indicate that more East Jerusalem Arabs prefer to stay with Israel than to join Palestine. There is a movement, especially among middle- and upper-income Palestinians, to send their children to Israeli schools in order to qualify for Israeli universities and integration into the better parts of the Israeli economy. Reports are that more East Jerusalemites are applying for Israeli citizenship. Most residents of East Jerusalem may oppose those demonstrating, even while most of those wanting quiet are reluctant to speak out. 

Even though Mahmoud Abbas is beating the drums on his way to the UN and in behalf of a holy war, his security personnel continue to cooperate with their Israeli counterparts. So far they have acted against any start of an uprising outside of Jerusalem.

Fatah-Hamas conflict is somewhere in the explanation, with the Fatah leadership more inclined to going along with Israel, even while its rhetoric competes with that of Hamas.

The political equivalent of the Jerusalem syndrome are the Muslims who incite war in defense of al Aqsa, and Jews who puff themselves up on the Temple Mount during a time of high tension.

“It’s all mine” is a folly of both Jews and Muslims.

Benyamin Netanyahu, Moshe Ya’alon, and Avigdor Liberman, none of whom can be accused of timidity in regard to speaking about the rights of Jews, have sought to quiet their colleagues by urging the wisdom of good timing. Stay off the Temple Mount, and stop talking about it is their message. They also emphasize Israel’s concessions to Jordan as a protector of Islamic holy places, and Jordan’s importance to the geopolitics of Israel.

One can ask if Israel’s insistence on maintaining a united Jerusalem under its control is also a kind of Jerusalem syndrome, with emotion getting in the way of rationality. Or if united Jerusalem is a bargaining chip that may be put on the table if the Palestinians show flexibility on other issues.

What can be done?

Realism gets in the way of concrete solutions. There are many already on the table, but those who would qualify for a seat at the table are not interested.

And we have learned to sleep through explosions. 

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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