Crisis With Palestinians Over Temple Mount Is Far From Over, in Fact It’s Only Getting Worse

Though Israel compromised on security measures at the holy site, Abbas is ramping up rhetoric, falling in line with Hamas. Palestinian disappointment in Trump also plays a role

Israeli border police officers stand as Palestinians pray outside the Lions Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, July 25, 2017.
Oded Balilty/AP

After an escalation in the West Bank, Israeli defense figures speak of the “braking distance” between the reaching of a solution to its implementation on the ground.

So it was on Monday, when Israel agreed to remove the metal detectors at the Temple Mount in exchange for Jordan allowing the return to Israel of a security guard who shot and killed two Jordanians in Amman. Both states deny that a deal was made.

But this time the web is only becoming more entangled. The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, is ramping up the rhetoric, calling with Fatah to heat up the struggle in Israel. In so doing, Abbas fell in line with other Palestinian organizations, chiefly Hamas, as well as with Turkey and the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian observers point to his fear that Hamas is winning the “most patriotic” contest, together with frustration at not being taken seriously during the crisis. Israel barely recognized the PA’s status on the issue, while holding talks with Jordan and the Waqf.

This came on top of his disappointment with U.S. reluctance to push Israel over peace talks and the new administration’s alignment with Jerusalem on such issues as incitement and support for Palestinian prisoners’ families.

Even after the metal detectors were removed, the Palestinians made demands before declaring the crisis over. To Israel, that means perpetuating the tension.

On Friday, for the third week in a row, there will be tension around Muslim prayers at the Temple Mount. Israel must be ready to counter violent protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank over the weekend, as well as new “lone wolf” attack attempts.

Members of Israel’s inner cabinet continue to criticize the conduct of the army, the Shin Bet security service and the decision making process during the crisis. Some fault the Shin Bet for failing to foil the killing of two policemen on the Temple Mount by teens from Umm al-Fahm that ignited it. They say the Shin Bet deflected responsibility with apocalyptic predictions of a third intifada and a global wave of Muslim terror if the metal detectors remained. Army officials shared the Shin Bet’s pessimism but apparently didn’t use the term “third intifada.”

Muslim worshippers pray outside Jerusalem's Old City on July 25, 2017 after Muslim officials said they should continue to boycott the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, even after Israel removed newly installed security measures that had triggered deadly violence.
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

The critical cabinet members blamed the defense establishment for the death of the policemen, the attack in which three family members were killed in Halamish and the incident at the embassy in Jordan.

The circumstances of the incident, in which an Israeli guard killed two Jordanian citizens, are not entirely clear. According to this description, the defense establishment botched up and complicated the situation, but instead of giving account to the cabinet and the public for its acts and shortcomings, it is conducting a fear campaign. According to this version, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to supervise the Shin Bet, which is under his authority, and the defense minister is out of the picture. The National Security Council is out of the loop.

Somehow, Netanyahu’s critics say, he even managed to delay the solution of the crisis with Jordan, because after the security guard was returned he insisted on giving him a photographed public embrace. The release and rescue celebrations were meant for the Israeli public, to show that Netanyahu solves problems swiftly. But they enraged the Jordanians, who would have preferred a low media profile for their concession.

The dire intelligence forecasts the ministers heard are not dictated from the top. The Central Command and its West Bank brigades have quite a clear intelligence picture that corresponds to what the ministers heard. There’s a sharp rise in the number of young Palestinians signaling a willingness to carry out copycat attacks, and the massacre in Halamish could be seen as a template for new attacks in settlements. All the attacks in the past two weeks were connected to the tensions surrounding the Temple Mount.

Intelligence figures say attendance at violent demonstrations may be lower than during the intifadas, but on Friday twice as many people came out compared to the height of the period of the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike in May. All the Palestinian organizations want their people to take to the streets for a “day of rage” tomorrow, with Fatah field activists taking part in organizing the demonstrations.

For all these reasons, the defense establishment sees the crisis as an ongoing situation, with the settlers’ taking over Hebron’s “Machpelah House” also contributing to the tense atmosphere.