Sit­u­a­tion has ex­plo­sive po­ten­tial

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - SH­MUEL ROS­NER

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 Is­raeliArab “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.

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