Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday authorized the police to bring reinforcements from other cities and take a more aggressive approach in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, in the wake of the escalating violence in the capital. But a senior security source said, “The police can only calm things down for a limited period,” in reference to what commentators have called a “third intifada.”
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“As long as radicals on both sides continue to stir the pot, the situation will only get worse. This swamp cannot be dried, only the government can do that.”
The violence in the city culminated on Wednesday morning when a suspected terrorist crashed a car into a light train station, killing the baby girl Haya Zissel-Brown and wounding seven other people.
Earlier that day, a Palestinian hurled a rock at a bus in the capital. No one was hurt. At the same time a Palestinian minor threw a stone at Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount. At midday police officers caught five Palestinian teens set to hurl rocks at cars. Shortly afterward on the Temple Mount, a Palestinian woman was arrested after cursing at Jewish visitors and a minor was arrested after throwing rocks at an Israeli car.
Apart from the car attack at the train station, Wednesday wasn’t unusual in the number of violent events compared to other days over the past three months. Rocks and fire bombs have been hurled almost daily since the beginning of July. The friction on the Temple Mount among the Palestinians, Jews and police has also become routine.
Since the summer an urban intifada – a widespread campaign originating mainly from the streets – has been raging in the capital. The uprising is led by youths hurling rocks and fire bombs or attempting to run people down with vehicles. Although neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas has generated the uprising, both of them are trying to jump on the bandwagon.
Official PA spokespeople describe the struggle in Jerusalem as “peaceful popular resistance,” as they had called the protest against the separation fence. In other words, they are saying that this is a basically widespread, legitimate occurrence that involves little violence.
The residents of the Jewish neighborhoods in East and north Jerusalem, who have been facing daily attacks on the light rail and private cars since the summer, find this far from convincing.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ castigation of Israel’s conduct in Jerusalem and call to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque last weekend was far from accidental. The violence and popular protest in Jerusalem serve the PA’s goals, such as the diplomatic campaign in the United Nations for Palestinian statehood and the drive to enlist the international community against Israel, following the collapse of the American peace initiative.
Jerusalem is an arena that unites the various Palestinian movements on a national and religious basis. It also serves to evoke sympathy and future economic support from the Arab world. The reconciliation moves between the PA and Hamas are stuck, so the focus moves to Jerusalem.
The conflict in the city enables the PA to appear belligerent and nationalistic, after suffering internal criticism for helping quash the violent protests against Israel in the West Bank in the second half of the war in Gaza.
Last month the women of the Kawasmeh clan accused the PA of cooperating with Israel, after the two Kawasmeh-linked terrorists who had murdered the three abducted Israeli teens were killed by an Israeli commando team. The PA can divert the public discourse in the West Bank from these accusations by focusing on Jerusalem.
Jerusalem cop: ‘Events in capital uniting Palestinians’
Israel further contributed to the conflagration by allowing Jewish worshippers to visit Temple Mount – which is worshipped by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary – over the Jewish holidays.
“The events in Jerusalem are uniting all the Palestinian factions. We arrest Hamas, Fatah, Popular Front and other activists, they all talk to us about the Temple Mount,” says a senior Jerusalem police officer.
He says the Israeli attempts to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are directly linked to the violence and disorders on the Mount and in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The police already know that every Knesset member's Facebook status about a planned visit of Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount will lead to a shower of rocks and flares at the site.
Eccentrics and MKs from the extreme right are no longer the only ones involved in the goings on at the Mount. Central Likud MKs Miri Regev, Moshe Feiglin, Ze’ev Elkin, Danny Danon and others, as well as Habayit Hayehudi ministers like Uri Ariel, openly support changing the status quo.
All this is raising the tension level in the PA as well as in Jordan, which is sensitive to any change in the holy sites. The Palestinians’ main fear is that Israel is trying to expand Jewish prayer privileges at the expense of the Muslims’ exclusive status there, as it did in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.