Temple Mount Crisis: Another Aggravation of the Palestinian-Israeli Confrontation

The importance of the Old City in Jerusalem as a sacred place for the three great religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, goes far beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Any exacerbation of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation over the Jerusalem problem in general and the Temple Mount in particular, immediately becomes a region-wide problem of the Middle East and, of course, attracts the attention of the whole world.

The July crisis around the Temple Mount has roots in the results of the 1967 war, when this part of the Old City, along with East Jerusalem, was conquered by Israel from Jordan. In terms of international law, East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, is considered an occupied territory and is not recognized as an Israeli territory. Under the pressure of the Arab world, the administration of the Temple Mount was transferred to the Jordanian Muslim fund (Waqf). In 1993, following the signing of the Oslo agreements, the Waqf management shifted from Jordan to the Palestinian Authority. Until now, this status of the Temple Mount has been preserved.

More than once the area adjacent to the Temple Mount witnessed clashes between Jews and Muslims, and has also been target of terrorists. The last crisis began on July 14, 2017 when three Israeli Arabs (i.e., not Palestinians from the occupied territories) killed two policemen and wounded a third who were on duty at the entrance to the Temple Mount. Immediately, clashes between Muslims and the Israeli police began, affecting the Old City.

The leadership of Fatah and Hamas approved the plan of mass protests in the West Bank as part of the "Day of Rage". Fearing the threat of a new intifada in the territories, Netanyahu was forced to make concessions and to cancel many measures of a more strict regime on the Temple Mount. In particular, the metal detectors, cameras, and many obstacles were removed. The Jerusalem mufti announced that the crisis is over. Waqf acknowledged that Israel, contrary to reports of some Arab media, did not harm the artifacts of the Temple Mount. The Palestinians celebrated it as their own, rather a rare, victory.

Although the crisis has exhausted itself, a quite predictable sharp reaction of the Muslim countries of the region followed at the regional level. The actions of the Israeli authorities in the area of the Temple Mount were condemned in many Arab and Muslim countries. The most severe consequence of the crisis can be considered the deterioration of relations with Jordan, associated not only with the widespread discontent of Jordanians with the reaction of Israel to the Temple Mount events, but also with the killing of a Jordanian by the Israeli guard near the embassy in Amman. The harsh reaction of King Abdullah was caused in particular by the fact that, by the order of Netanyahu, the security guard accused of murder was allowed to return to Israel.

Saudi prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd criticized Israel, urging the Muslim world to intervene into the crisis around the Temple Mount, because "every Muslim is obliged to support at the limit of his ability " both the Palestinians and the holy mosque of Al-Aqsa. Pakistan and Turkey also expressed their dissatisfaction with the actions of Israel.

International reaction

On July 24, the UN Security Council held an extraordinary meeting on the situation in Jerusalem. The Security Council documents reiterated that if a solution to the crisis in Jerusalem is not found, the danger will only increase; catastrophic consequences may come far beyond the Temple Mount.

Special representatives of the "Middle Eastern Quartet" of international mediators (Russia, United States, EU, UN) called on all parties to show maximum restraint, to refrain from provocative actions and move towards de-escalation of the situation.

The Trump administration abstained from a sharp condemnation of Israel, which caused the disappointment of the Palestinian leadership. This allowed some analysts to talk about the fact that after the president's promises to achieve a settlement of the conflict on the basis of equal treatment of the positions of both sides, the Temple Mount crisis marked the end of the "honeymoon" between Trump and the Palestinians.

For their part, Israel is also "outraged" by the silence of Trump, who, it is said, violates his promises and "betrays" Israel.

Reaction of Israel

The sharp conflict of opinion in the political circles of Israel has also attracted attention. First of all, many were struck by the Netanyahu’s sharp reaction to the events around the Temple Mount: he publicly demanded death sentences for the Palestinians, who, protesting the actions of the government on the Temple Mount, killed seven settlers in the settlement of Halamishi in the West Bank. This was followed more than once by the proposal, made in the past, to exchange the whole area of ​​Arab cities, from which the three terrorists who committed murders hail, for the future Palestinian state in return for the return to Israel of a number of Jewish settlements (located in the West Bank).

The fact that Netanyahu's position in the crisis around the Temple Mount was supported not only by his party members in the Likud, but also by the most authoritative officials in the Cabinet, as Defense Minister Lieberman, Transport Minister Katz and Minister of Education Bennett, is alarming for the domestic policy of Israel is. The Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Elkin, called for the cessation of the "cynical use of the Temple Mount as immunity for incitement and terrorism." Even proposals were made to change the status of the Temple Mount. Minister of Culture Regev called for the opening of the Temple Mount for all, without restrictions on time and area, since the Waqf should only manage the mosque, and not the whole mountain, which is covered by the sovereignty of Israel.

The sharp discussion involved not only the government, but also the Israeli society. The populist right wing in the Cabinet and the leaders of the settlement movement urged Netanyahu to use the crisis to tighten the rules governing the status of the Temple Mount in his favor. Representatives of the left opposition, for their part, consider the actions of Netanyahu a manifestation of the extreme right-wing direction of Israeli policy.

The analytical community, for its part, believes that although the crisis of the Temple Mount has ended more or less safely, the overall balance of the results is disappointing. Most likely, this is just another exacerbation of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation and in the future such crises are unavoidable. Disappointing results include the killing of terrorists by several Israelis, wounded on both sides during the unrest; aggravation of relations with Israeli Arabs; sharp deterioration of relations with Jordan; further erosion of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

That part of the Israeli society of Israel and Palestine, which sincerely tries to find a way out of the impasse of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, recently worked out new proposals to solve the problem of joint management of the Old City, the heart of Jerusalem, a city that both sides of the conflict consider their capital. This document, developed by a group of Israeli and Palestinian experts, was recently published by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Studies. It contains proposals concerning the ordering of the status of Holy Places, the actions of city authorities, legal institutions, security and economic security. According to the authors of the document, the Palestinian-Israeli Joint Jerusalem Authority (JJA) should implement and maintain order in the Old City. A special chapter is devoted to the management of the Holy Places of the Old City, which is planned to be developed on the basis of the equality of the three monotheistic religions. To do this, the authors of the document propose to temporarily postpone the decision on the sovereignty of the Old City and all Holy places.

This means, in principle, the preservation of the existing order, while recognizing the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in controlling the Islamic Holy Places of Jerusalem

The crisis did not lead, as some feared on the Israeli side, to the new Palestinian intifada. However, it is clear that the issue has not been resolved; the opportunity to use piety to organize new terrorist attacks has not been exhausted. The Temple Mount is still a smoldering hearth that inflames inter-confessional and political contradictions in the Middle East.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.