Opinion by Jotam Confino.
It didn’t take long before the Israeli and Palestinian leaders started exploiting the crisis that erupted at the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Like every crisis in the Holy Land, politicians are standing in line to come up with the most outrageous statements to get attention and media coverage. Let’s start with the Israeli government. Top ministers called for the execution of the terrorist who killed three Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and Netanyahu of course followed through as well. After all, how could he let his enemies, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman get all the media attention, and thus risk losing voters from the extreme right?
The timing of their statements shows exactly how calculated they are. When the Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year, the very same ministers supported him, but none of them dared use the same rhetoric as now. Elor Azaria practically executed a Palestinian terrorist, which these ministers apparently support, but in this case they needed to restrain themselves a bit more. Now, the situation is reverse. A Palestinian murdered three Israelis, and all of a sudden, it changes the rules of the game. The Israeli public is understandably outraged by the killings last week, and will therefore most likely be more open to the rhetoric used by the Israeli ministers.
Netanyahu continued to steer through the current crisis, as he usually does. The Prime Minister did a couple of things to distract attention from his zig zag course on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. When the Israeli security guard who shot and killed two Jordanians after one of them stabbed him, Netanyahu made a big deal out of welcoming him as a hero when he returned to Israel. The warm welcome of course infuriated Jordan’s King Abdullah, who publically slammed Netanyahu for his political exploitation of the diplomatic crisis between Jordan and Israel. Netanyahu basically risked damaging Israel’s relations to a crucial neighbor for personal reasons. By portraying himself as the sole protector of all Israelis he hoped to gain public support. Lastly, Netanyahu called for the closing of Al-Jazeera’s office in Tel Aviv, which will probably be welcomed among the voters he is trying to influence.
No matter how serious a crisis the Israeli government finds itself in, its ministers will do what it takes to gain political capital. Perhaps the most insensitive and dangerous comment was made by the Minister of Regional Cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, who warned the Palestinians in a Facebook post, saying: “This is how a ‘Nakba’ begins. Exactly like this. Remember 48. Remember 67”. The comment was made after three Israeli settlers were killed last week. Everyone who knows a little bit about the conflict should be able to grasp the absurdity of this comment.
The Palestinian leadership
Both Hamas and the PA have publically supported the Palestinian demonstrators, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif crisis nevertheless reveals how cynical the Palestinian leaders are when it comes to protecting its people. Abbas and Hamas may portray themselves as the protectors of the holiest Muslim site in Jerusalem, but in reality they care very little about what the Palestinian people want.
Abbas has been punishing the people of Gaza for months, by asking Israel to reduce the electricity that is available for Gaza. It’s striking how a man like Abbas who calls himself the leader of the Palestinians can punish two million Palestinians for political reasons, without hesitation. Cutting the electricity was an attempt by Abbas to put heavy pressure on Hamas, but so far it hasn’t worked. The victims are once again the people of Gaza who have been living in even worse conditions than usual, since the electricity was cut to a couple of hours a day.
Abbas is constantly losing popularity among Palestinians in the West Bank, who are tired of his indifference to their struggle. In addition, Egypt’s al-Sissi has been negotiating with Abbas’ main rival, Mohammed Dahlan, and it seems as if a deal has been struck.
According to various newspapers in the Middle East, the deal is that Egypt will reopen the border to Gaza and the UAE will donate $100 mio power plant on the Egyptian side. Mohammed Dahlan is the main negotiator that involves Hamas, Egypt, UAE and Israel of course. If the deal goes through, it means that Abbas will be further alienated.
The Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif crisis therefore couldn’t come at a better time. Abba’s political party, Fatah, planned and coordinated West Bank rallies throughout the week, which isn’t particularly unusual. It’s striking, however, that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank will only act as leaders when thousands of Palestinians decide they have had enough, in this case changing the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif.
Abbas and Hamas didn’t have any problem taking credit for the Israeli government’s decision to take down the metal detectors and cameras, even though the credit should be given to the Palestinian people. Abbas may have ‘approved’ mass demonstrations, but it sure isn’t because of him that the status quo is now restored. If the Palestinian people want to change their situation, the courage and will needs to come from them and not their leaders.
Jotam Confino is the editor of Republic Paper and has written extensively about the Middle East in the Danish media. He holds a BA in International Relations and an M.A in Security & Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.