Photo via Reuters
Tension has erupted again in Jerusalem. Six people have lost their lives; three Palestinians in street clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem, and three Israelis in a stabbing attack at a West Bank settlement last Friday. On the surface, this latest bloodshed is due to a dispute about new Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif complex. Israel installed new electronic gates at the entrance of the complex, and the Palestinians are against it. This latest escalation of conflict, unfortunately, reflects something much deeper: the death of hope for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Last month, the Times of Israel published a review article about the recent Hebrew book Milkud 67, or Catch-67, written by Israeli philosopher Micah Goodman. Goodman argued that there is no solution to the conflict; hence, he asks the Israeli left to abandon its dream of achieving peace with the Palestinians, and the Israeli right to abandon its goal of permanent control of the West Bank. Instead, he suggests “reorganising the conflict” by minimizing the occupation, but still leaving Israel in control. Goodman suggests a practical deal in which the Palestinians are granted 80% independence with a settlement freeze, but without recognizing Israel or giving up the right of return. Meanwhile, Israel maintains control of the crucial 20% of the West Bank, mostly in the Jordanian valley.
The current violence in Jerusalem indicates that Goodman is partially right, but also partially wrong. He is right that there are currently no feasible solutions for the conflict, but his suggested action plan is wrong. The violence erupted because the Palestinians, similar to Goodman, have also lost hope in resolving the conflict. Thus, the actual problem is that the Palestinians do not see how many Israelis share in their desperation. Instead, they see the Israelis as people with a grand plan, working to slowly change the reality of the West Bank and Jerusalem in their favour. With that mindset, Palestinians view the metal gates installed at Haram al-Sharif’s complex as a symbol of a hidden political move aimed to rob them of their holiest of holy places.
Importantly, the current violence proves that Goodman’s suggested plan of “reorganising the conflict” will not work. Goodman’s solution fails to consider how irresponsible irrationalism is the root of the problem in Israel and Palestine. Goodman places the Palestinians into one basket, but in reality, they are divided roughly into Islamist and non-Islamist camps. Ever since the second intifada, the Islamist camp has engineered most of the violent attacks, and will continue to do so as long as partial solutions like Goodman’s continue to be offered.
The three Arab Israelis who killed two Israeli officers near the Temple Mount, triggering the current episode of violence in Jerusalem, came from the northern town of Umm al-Fahm, the heartland of Islamism in Israel. Islamists understand the Israelis well, and they know how to manipulate their responses. Their formula is simple: provoke the Israelis and trigger an excessive security crackdown that will ultimately lead to widespread anger among Palestinians.
Violent emotionalism is largely an Islamist phenomenon. Islamists use religious symbols like the Al-Aqsa mosque to serve their own agenda in the region. While Friday’s day of rage in Jerusalem gained support from every corner of Arabia, the frenzied incitement from Islamist media outlets such as Al-Jazeera could easily be prevented. One of Al-Jazeera’s videos even has mocked Arabs who condemned the violent attacks against Israelis. It was also no coincidence that Qatar Emir, a patron of Islamism in the region, opted to deliver an emotional speech mentioning Jerusalem on the same day as protests in the holy city.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s violent Islamist group Hasm issued a statement claiming that Jerusalem will not be liberated until Cairo is liberated. The Muslim Brotherhood leader Gamal Heshmat shared the same sentiment on his Facebook page: “liquidation of the MB is prelude to liquidation of the Palestinian issue, but neither will happen, God willing.” Igniting tension in the Holy Land is a clear strategy in the Islamist playbook to raise their sinking popularity in the Arab world.
Israel, however, could have prevented the current futile cycle of violence by foiling the Islamist agenda. The lack of political coordination between Israel and neighbouring Arab states like Jordan and Egypt is striking. Jordan has always had a direct role in protecting the Haram al-Sharif complex. In fact, the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement includes a clause reaffirming Jordan’s role. Why didn’t Israel involve Jordan in the installation of the new security gates? Would it not have been better to gain the support of the Jordanians and Egyptians in any new security arrangement? Unless Israel cooperates with and offers non-Islamist Arabs a substantial role in running Islamic religious sites, the current emotionalism will continue to thrive.
In short, unfortunately, violence will continue to erupt in the Holy Land until both Israelis and Palestinians learn from past mistakes and acknowledge the desperation on both sides. Israel has to realise that the current status quo is unsustainable, and that hasty security measures only serve the Islamist agenda. Arabs and Palestinians have to stop being seduced by Islamist emotionalism and understand that uncontrolled rage without a political plan is doomed to failure. Unfortunately, at this moment, hope has been suffocated by the current status quo.