Since the beginning of Ramadan, acts of violence and political tensions have been on the rise in and around the holy sites of Jerusalem. The spirituality of the Muslim holy month, and its rare concurrence with Jewish and Christian celebrations of Pesach and Easter, respectively, did not prevent extremists from hijacking the holiday season to fuel religion-based hatred that perfectly serves and enhances their political agendas. Among the many terrible consequences expected out of the current security turmoil in Jerusalem is putting the newly found Arab-Israel peace trend under a tough test of durability.
A few days before the violence erupted in Jerusalem, Israeli and some Arab foreign ministers posed for a photo, wherein they appeared holding hands in a way that shows solidarity and affinity. The photo was taken at the conclusion of a historic two-day summit, that was held in Negev on March 27-28, to discuss regional action to deter the growing threats of Iran and its militia on the countries of the region, especially Israel and Arab Gulf countries. The summit, which was held a few kilometers away from the grave of David Ben Gurion, the founding father of Israel, brought together the foreign ministers of Israel, the United States (U.S.), Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for the first time ever.
As the U.S. Secretary Blinken noted later, that was a photo that no one would have thought possible a few months before. Indeed! It showed that the Middle East is going through a phase of political maturity, wherein the leaders of the region can effectively cooperate on realistic and pragmatic terms. However, the recent events in Jerusalem are clearly threatening the resilience and sustainability of this most-needed cooperation.
Immediately after the summit, a number of stabbing and shooting attacks against civilians in Tel Aviv were committed by terrorists, who later claimed their affiliation with the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists. Then, in the following week, deadly clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians took place in the West Bank, when the Israeli army was leading a security sweep in search of suspects. A few days after that, huge protests at Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Compound) in Jerusalem erupted, leading to deadly clashes between protesters and Israeli soldiers. Up till the moment of writing this article, in the last week of Ramadan, the violence has not stopped.
The current security chaos, especially in Jerusalem, is putting the Israeli government in an unenviable position, either before the Israeli citizens or before Israel’s regional and international allies. If nothing else, it renews the unpleasant controversy about the authenticity and sustainability of the emerging trend of peace between leading Arab countries and Israel. That is despite the sincere efforts of the Israeli coalition government to include all factions in the political process and fix worn ties with its neighbors in the Middle East region.
On the domestic level, the Bennett-Lapid government is faced with criticism from far-right political groups for not taking strict action against the groups that initiated these protests. The government is careful not to encourage the eruption of a new war similar to the one that took place in Ramadan/May of 2021 and led to the killing of hundreds within only eleven days.
In an interview with CNN, Bennett explained the situation of his government as follows: “My responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel is to provide freedom of prayer to everyone in Jerusalem, including Muslims, which is why I had to send in policemen to remove the rioters. And it worked. Indeed, 80,000 Muslims went on later to pray peacefully. So, you know, when faced with violence, you have to act tough.”
Simultaneously, the United Arab List (Raam Party), which represents Arab Israelis in the coalition government, is clearly taking the side of the Palestinians. Last week, Raam decided to suspend its participation in the coalition government, to protest the injury of 150 Palestinians at the Temple Mount. Raam Party is also threatening to completely withdraw from the government if the turmoil continues, which will threaten the coherence of the Bennett-Lapid government as a whole.
On the regional level, the violence at the Temple Mount stirred a heated reaction from several Arab leaders, including signatories of the Abraham Accords like the UAE, as well as Israel’s closest neighbors and allies – Egypt and Jordan. The UAE Airlines withdrew from participation in the show scheduled to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, last week. Meanwhile, UAE and Jordan, separately summoned the Israeli ambassadors to each of their countries to declare their denunciation of the violence in Al-Aqsa Compound.
A few days ago, UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and Egypt’s President El-Sisi held an urgent meeting in Cairo to discuss the violence in Jerusalem. The three leaders concluded the meeting with a statement condemning violence in Al-Aqsa Mosque and “stressing the need to stop any practices that violate the sanctity of the holy mosque and change the status quo there in addition to avoiding escalation and calming the situation.”
Most importantly, though, is that the statement clearly noted that the success of regional normalization between Arab countries and Israel is conditional on calming the Israel-Palestinian conflict and realizing domestic peace in Israel first. “The region needs peace, stability, and cooperation in order to promote peace and development and ultimately achieve the aspirations of the peoples of the region for progress and prosperity.”
Nevertheless, the important lesson to learn from the current security turmoil in Jerusalem and the Sheikh Jarrah events of last year is that the euphoria created by human love replacing decades of political animosity should not blind us from the fact that the core of the disagreement that kept Arabs and Israelis in conflict for decades is still open. That is the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As long as this conflict continues to exist, any efforts for long-term peace between Arabs and Israelis will remain fragile.
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