Analysis: Situation has explosive potential
Winter in Jerusalem is not a good time for protest. The winds are too strong, the weather too cold, and days are much too short for people to gather after work for demonstrations. Summer is good, especially for the strictly-Orthodox, bored in the afternoons of a long Shabbat. And autumn is good for the Palestinians.
The target — thousands of Jews congregating in the Old City and near the Western Wall — is there. The energy — especially when the month of Ramadan is over — is there. All that is needed is a motive — and complicated Palestinian politics always provides for one. Another year, another “battle for Jerusalem”.
In most years, it will end with the first sign of rain.
Jews and Arabs live in parallel universes, telling conflicting narratives about the reason for this battle. Arabs say that they are trying to “defend the mount” — that is, Temple Mount, Haram al-Sharif as they call it. They say, and some probably believe, that Israel is contemplating plans to take it over.
The claim is bogus, of course, but it rests on proof that cannot be disputed: Israel is building in Jerusalem, and building quite fast, and the Americans have failed to make the Israeli government freeze construction in East Jerusalem.
Israelis look at Palestinian claims with renewed amazement. Once again, Palestinian speakers say that there was never a Jewish Temple on the mount, once again they try to dispute not just the political validity of Israel’s connection to the Old City, but also the historic record, the religious claim.
They don’t seem to want a compromise in Jerusalem, they seem to want it all — just like Yassir Arafat did at Camp David in 2000, when he refused to give Israel even symbolic sovereignty “under” Temple Mount to signify its tie to this holy place.
The involvement of Israeli Arabs in this autumn’s “battle” complicates things even further. The leaders of Israel’s Islamic Movement have joined the fight, hoping to gain politically, thus straining Jewish-Arab relations yet again.
The fortune-wheel of radicalism rolls again: Arabs will make their preposterous claims, proving to Jewish-Israelis that their presence poses a danger, making them vote in even greater numbers for parties like Israel Beiteinu, a party which rose to power convincing Israelis to focus their attention on the Israeli-Arab “threat”.
Of course, the rise of Avigdor Lieberman’s party will yet again give more credit to Arab claims that Israel is the one risking the status quo.
Thus, the politics of two people, religious sensitivities, frustration over the peace process and media frenzy (al-Jazeera) all fit into this dangerous mix.
In most years this battle will come and go, but once in a while, a real explosion will ensue. This happened, of course, in 2000, when the visit of Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount was the excuse the Palestinians used to justify the eruption of the Second Intifada.
But it also happened four years earlier when archeological excavations near Temple Mount ignited three days of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Consider the dates of these two major flare-ups: Western-Wall tunnel riots — September 24, 1996. Sharon’s Temple Mount visit — September 28, 2000.
The matches are there, the players are all there, the motives and tensions are there. One more reason to pray hard this Succot for an early, pouring, rain.