United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.
Palestinians are angry about the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount and in particular that of Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing member of the Knesset who is a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Feiglin’s appearance helps fuel Palestinian claims that Israel intends to demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount, a lie that has served to incite anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in the past. Arabs were doubly angered when Israeli police entered the area and discovered supplies of gasoline bombs, rocks, bottle rockets, and fireworks intended for more violence directed at Jews, including worshippers at the Western Wall. The police wound up locking some of the Arabs involved in this activity inside the Al-Aksa Mosque in order to forestall exactly the kind of riot and bloodshed they intended to ignite.
But the international community, in the person of the UN Secretary General, has no interest in protecting the right of Jews to worship at the Wall or to visit the Temple Mount (where they are forbidden to pray). Instead, he chided Israel to maintain the status quo there while also throwing in his condemnation of Jews who move into homes in Eastern Jerusalem.
In reply, Netanyahu rightly noted that Israel has defended free access to the holy places for all faiths. That is something that was unheard of before Jerusalem was unified under Israeli rule in June 1967.
But there is more beneath the surface of the story than the usual misunderstandings or the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations. The battle over Jerusalem’s holy places is a microcosm of the one over the fate of the entire country.
For Palestinians, the notion of sharing the Temple Mount or even Jerusalem remains anathema. To them, Israel’s decision to let the sacred enclosure remain in the hands of the Wakf, the Muslim religious authority, after the city’s unification means nothing. The supposedly moderate Palestinians, in the form of the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Mahmoud Abbas, claimed the Israelis are trying to expel Arabs and Muslims from the Mount and the mosques.
That is the same lie Palestinian leaders used in 1929 to foment pogroms that killed dozens of Jews. Their purpose is to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims. But it also is a thin cover for their own agenda that involves expunging the Jewish presence from both the city and the country.
After all, it is not Israel that is demanding that Arabs be expelled from any part of Jerusalem that would remain in its hands after peace. But Palestinian leaders treat the eviction of Jews from all of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem that they hope to control in a divided city. They would, in fact, like to return to the “status quo” that existed in the city before 1967 when Jews were forbidden not only to visit the Temple Mount but also the Western Wall.
Though the international community and the UN pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution that would end the conflict, any such resolution must involve sharing the holy city and places. But that is precisely what Palestinians refuse to do in Jerusalem. They treat Jewish worship and Jewish life as inherently illegitimate anywhere Palestinians reside.
Lest this be put down as merely heightened sensitivity about a particular spot, it is very much of a piece with the positions of Hamas, which remains more popular than Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip they already rule. Hamas still demands the eradication of Israel and the expulsion/slaughter of its Jewish population. So why should we be surprised that the PA and its official media dismiss any Jewish claims to the city or its holy spots and seek to gin up more religiously inspired violence over the fact that some Israelis took a walk on the Temple Mount?
It would be one thing if only Hamas or those Palestinians that can be dismissed as “extremists” sought to inflame passions over the Temple Mount. But when Abbas’s PLO does this, it illustrates the way all Palestinian factions—moderate as well as extreme—routinely attempt to hype blood libels about the mosques in order to keep the political temperature at fever pitch.
We don’t know yet whether this latest incident is a repeat of the PA’s exploitation of Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount that was the excuse for setting off the second intifada violence that Yasir Arafat had already planned to incite. But whether the harbinger of a third intifada or just routine violence, the real provocations on the Mount are not about Jews with nationalist views taking walks but rather about Arabs that seek a Jew-free Jerusalem.