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20
Sep
2015

Growing Tensions in Jerusalem amid Holy Days


The violent events at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, were provoked by the group known as Al-Mourabitoun (and the women’s branch Al-Mourabitat), which is allied with the northern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement headed by Sheikh Raed Salah. The disturbances have created a very tense atmosphere in Jerusalem and prompted extensive Arab diplomatic activity aimed at securing international condemnation of Israel.

Rioters on the Temple Mount near the Al Aqsa Mosque (Palestinian news agencies)

Rioters on the Temple Mount near the Al Aqsa Mosque
(Palestinian news agencies)

For now this Arab activity has not particularly borne fruit. But with both Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha this week, the tensions could erupt in a wave of Palestinian retaliatory attacks in the Jerusalem area such as vehicular attacks or stabbings.

The Palestinian Authority and Jordan are competing with each other in appealing to Arab states and the international community, and in issuing condemnations of the Temple Mount events. Jordan, in accordance with its peace treaty with Israel, regards itself as custodian of the mosques there, while Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas views himself as the Palestinians’ representative based on his status as PLO leader. King Abdullah of Jordan has been subtly threatening that if Israel does not cease its activities on the Mount, Jordan will take measures such as withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv or summoning the Israeli ambassador in Amman to the Jordanian Foreign Ministry for a reprimand and warning.

On September 15, 2015, Abbas called King Abdullah and asked him to push the United Nations Security Council to urgently convene on what has been happening at Al-Aqsa. Jordan is currently the only Arab state sitting on the Security Council.

On September 14, the PLO Executive Committee met in Ramallah and decided to continue contacts with the Arab League, Jordan, and the Islamic Organization aimed at cooperating on the Temple Mount issue. Khaled Mashal, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, called Abbas and claimed that Israel was trying to impose a division between Jewish and Muslim prayer times on the Mount as it had done previously at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. According to a Hamas announcement, Mashal demanded that Abbas urgently convene the temporary framework of the PLO, which includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to formulate a unified policy and strategy on Al-Aqsa.

Abdullah has also been talking by phone with Egypt’s President Sisi in an attempt to recruit him, too, to the Arab effort on the Temple Mount issue.

So far, aside from condemnations and declarations, Jordan and the PA have not succeeded to get either the Security Council or the Arab League to convene.

The situation in east Jerusalem is, however, explosive, and much depends on what Israel does on the ground. What is needed is a massive strengthening of the police in Jerusalem and on the Mount, while barring the Al-Mourabitoun activists from the Mount.

As both Jewish and Muslim holidays approach, this week will be a particularly sensitive time on the Temple Mount. Only a firm Israeli policy and massive police presence that prevents violent acts can calm the storm.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
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