SEATTLE — Secretary of State John Kerry is in the midst of a whirlwind of Middle East diplomacy. In addition to seeking a deal with Russia over Syria, he’s concluding a separate deal with Jordan aimed at reducing recent tension in the Holy Land that has resulted in the deaths of 60 Palestinians and 10 Israelis.
Since the latest wave of violence erupted at the beginning of this month, one Eritrean immigrant was also killed when he was mistaken for a Palestinian attacker.
In talks last week that took him from Berlin to Amman, Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, achieving some positive results. But the agreement he secured seems mostly cosmetic.
The major positive outcome was Israel’s announcement that it would no longer limit Muslim worshippers to Al-Aqsa Mosque. It was Israel’s imposition of such a restriction ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which launched the current round of violence. Men under the age of 50 were prohibited from entering the mosque, which functionally excluded the vast majority of male worshippers. Lest anyone think Israel’s imposition of such restrictions was a one-off issue, the state does this regularly and arbitrarily, seemingly to remind the Palestinians of who’s boss of the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
The removal of restrictions on worship should go some way toward relieving the Palestinian sense of grievance, especially among young Muslims, who have formed the backbone of this latest resistance movement.
But a key question remains: How long will this last?
History, which is always a good gauge of Israeli intention, suggests that Israeli authorities will return to form and abandon the agreement the next time it suits them. Just as Israel reneged on provisions of the Oslo Accords and 2003 two-state road map to which it agreed, it’s highly likely that the state will re-impose such restrictions in order to exert its dominance and claim of sovereignty over the holy site.
Should this prediction prove correct, Kerry will no longer be breathing down Netanyahu’s neck and there will be little for Israel to fear. Not even the prospect of Palestinians stabbing Jews, or even Jews stabbing other Jews mistakenly believing they are Palestinian, would deter Israel’s interference with Muslim holy sites.
In the same World Zionist Congress speech in which Netanyahu falsely proclaimed Mufti Amin al-Husseini responsible for the Holocaust, he told the world that Israel guarantees security and freedom of worship at the Noble Sanctuary:
“First lie: Israel seeks to change the status quo — false. Second lie: Israel seeks to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque – false. It’s particularly onerous because Israel is the only country that protects the holy sites in the Middle East. You see Muslims, the militant Shi’ites and the militant Sunnis, blowing each other’s mosques to smithereens across Iraq, Syria, you name it, churches – of course, synagogues – don’t even talk about it. And ancient shrines of great world heritage – blown up. The only place where the holy shrines of all are absolutely guaranteed is in Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and of course in the rest of Israel.“
Despite Netanyahu saying this with a straight face, video footage shows Israeli forces storming Al-Aqsa Mosque last month. On Sept. 13, just hours before the start of Rosh Hashana, Ma’an News Agency reported:
“Witnesses told Ma’an that Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound shortly after dawn prayer, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades, leading to the injury of several worshipers.
The forces then surrounded worshipers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque itself and closed its doors with ‘chains and bars’ before firing rubber-coated bullets inside the mosque, witnesses said.
Netanyahu also ignores numerous settler price tag arson attacks on Palestinian mosques and churches, including the historic Church of Loaves and Fishes in Galilee.
The Israeli prime minister also claims Israel has no interest in upsetting the status quo at the holy site. Yet his deputy foreign minister, one of the most extreme members of his cabinet, just called for raising the flag of Israel there to display Israeli sovereignty at a site that is formally administered by Jordanian authorities:
“Israel’s deputy foreign minister said in remarks aired Monday that it is her dream for an Israeli flag to fly over the Temple Mount, despite the government’s insistence that it has no intention of changing the status quo at the controversial site.
‘I think it’s the center of Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the holiest place for the Jewish people,’ Likud lawmaker and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said in an interview with the Knesset channel previewed on Monday. ‘It’s my dream to see the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount.’”
If the world has learned anything from Israeli leaders over the years, it is that what they aspire to do, they eventually will do. There can be little doubt that Netanyahu not only agrees with Hotovely, even if his views aren’t public, but that his government will also implement her views at the earliest opportunity. Whether that takes a year or more is immaterial because Israel takes the long view on matters such as these.
Video surveillance to monitor holy site
Secretary of State Kerry announced with a flourish another measure meant to curtail violence: the installation of video surveillance cameras throughout the holy complex. The goal, Kerry said, is to produce “comprehensive visibility and transparency, and that could really be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site.”
However, what wasn’t made clear is who will monitor the cameras, what will happen to the footage, or how such monitoring would restrain either side. Media coverage of the so-called agreement is light on such details.
These types of “deals” have been announced with great fanfare in the past (remember the road map and Kerry’s last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?), only to have them die a slow death over time, eroded by a lack of will on both sides (but more often on the Israeli side).
Another part of the deal appears to be a slap on the wrist directed at the Palestinian Authority by the United States. The Obama administration will reduce its budgetary allotment to the PA this year by 20 percent. This is apparently meant to mollify the Israelis, who have publicly and without a shred of evidence, blamed Mahmoud Abbas for the violence. Netanyahu claims the PA leader is inciting Palestinians to kill Israelis. Speaking to foreign press at Israel’s foreign affairs ministry on Oct. 15, Netanyahu said: “The current terror campaign in Israel is a result of continuous Palestinian incitement.”
In response to a question about the U.S. State Department’s concerns about “excessive use of force used by some Israeli security forces,” and whether Netanyahu was concerned about losing the support of his allies or “dividing” Jerusalem, the prime minister said, in part:
“You know, the first order of the day in fighting terrorism is moral clarity. Nothing justifies terrorism. Nothing exonerates it. And stop trying to explain it away. This is terrorism, murder, pure and simple. Abu Mazen [Abbas] is inciting murder. Make him accountable and stop trying to justify it in any way – not with settlements, not with peace process, not with anything.”
Prior to this press conference, Abbas told Haaretz on Oct. 7:
“I support a popular, nonviolent struggle and oppose all violence and use of weapons. I’ve made clear a number of times that I don’t want to return to the cycle of violence. …
We do not seek violence and have not sought to escalate it, but the aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the worshippers in the mosque have led to this, and we are constantly trying to make sure it doesn’t intensify.”
Kerry, in announcing the deal, also used the word “incitement,” which is code for blaming the Palestinian leadership for the unrest.
It’s ironic that Kerry and Netanyahu place blame on the Palestinian leader, as if he commands the loyalty of all Palestinians. Neither Abbas nor the PA represents the Palestinians. This is clear for several reasons: First, Abbas has not conducted an election since 2006 and his formal term as president ended in 2009. Second, the PA leader is not an independent actor; he is the pawn of far more powerful agents than himself, like the Israelis and Americans. And third, Israel’s leaders have deliberately denied Abbas legitimacy. Indeed, they’ve spent a decade or more spitting on the Palestinian leader and claiming he’s a terrorist and “not a partner,” and it’s cruelly ironic to call upon him to become the national leader they have denied he was all along.
Blaming social media for Palestinian unrest
At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu and the mainstream media are looking for others to blame, while ignoring the root cause of Israeli occupation. Facebook and other social media platforms are apparently also culprits, the prime minister said during his speech to the World Zionist Congress:
“… [W]e are now in the midst of a campaign, an assault, and not the first one, that seeks to murder Israelis wherever they are. I am seeing it primarily on the social networks … [W]e know for example that the various attackers are using their Facebook pages to indicate what they are, to absorb messages of incitement.”
The Israeli leader ignores, of course, the fact that mobs of Israeli youth use text messaging and social media in planning their own attacks on Palestinian youth. Writing in Haaretz about a mob attack on Palestinian teens in 2008, Israeli journalist Uri Blau reports that 11 young Israeli attackers were indicted for the crime:
“According to the indictment, the boys responded to a message on the ICQ instant messaging internet program calling for ‘Jewish blood’ to ‘put an end to Arabs running around the Pisga.’ According to the indictment, the Jewish teens gathered outside the local shopping center armed with knives, sticks and bats and attacked two Arab teens, aged 16 and 18, from the nearby Shuafat refugee camp.”
Not to mention that theories such as Netanyahu’s reduce the agency of Palestinians, who are viewed as pawns of everyone but have little ability to understand or act upon their real interests.
This is a common theme among those who refuse to acknowledge Palestinian legitimacy. They infantilize them by turning Palestinians into children or demonize them by turning them into animals.
The New York TImes’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren joined in this chorus with her recent article, “Leaderless Palestinian Youth, Inspired by Social Media, Drive Rise in Violence in Israel.” In her view, Palestinians are hot-headed and a chaotic rabble, without leaders or a coherent political program. It would never cross her mind that it was the Israelis themselves who worked assiduously to undermine Palestinian political legitimacy in the following ways:
- Israel (and the U.S.) refused to negotiate with Hamas.
- Israel placed Gaza under siege after Palestinians voted Hamas into power in democratic elections in 2006.
- Israel refused to recognize a Palestinian state unless Palestinians recognized Israel not just as a state, but as a Jewish-only state, where Palestinian Muslims and Christians are denied the rights of full, equal citizens..
To find the root cause of dysfunction in Palestinian politics, Rudoren must look much closer to her Jerusalem home — a home which was expropriated from its original Palestinian owner in 1948, significantly expanded through the 1970s, and purchased by The New York Times in 1984 — to the occupant of the prime minister’s residence.
Kerry’s efforts will not amount to much in the long run. He is putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding ulcer. There is no way to lessen tension without seeking a comprehensive solution, one that offers Palestinians an independent state, an Israeli return to pre-1967 borders, a shared Jerusalem as national capital, and right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Though what I’ve outlined above is essentially a two-state solution, it’s quite clear even to many Israeli observers that the nation’s political leadership will never agree to these provisions. That means that the only remaining option is a one-state solution. Though liberal Zionists both inside and outside Israel oppose this plan, it’s important to note that important figures like Israeli President Reuven Rivlin have endorsed the one-state solution.
The U.S. administration, the European Union and United Nations all lack the stomach for exerting the sort of unrelenting pressure on Israel which would be required to obtain such a compromise on its maximalist views. They couldn’t get Netanyahu to agree to a settlement freeze, let alone a Palestinian state.
This latest deal will eventually fall by the wayside either next year or next month or next week. It is a palliative rather than a cure.
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