The prime minister and the Israeli public don’t really need a reminder of the events that followed the opening of the Western Wall tunnel in 1996, or Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 or that of Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel in 2015. Then, as now, the decision-makers discounted the warnings of the Shin Bet security service and the army, explaining that the metal detectors, the Western Wall tunnel or the opposition chairman’s visit to the Temple Mount were vital to preserving national honor.
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The Temple Mount crisis has claimed seven lives so far: three members of the Salomon family in a terror attack in Halamish, and four Palestinians in events in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces continue, and the Red Crescent has reported on hundreds of injured Palestinians. In addition, senior army officers and Shin Bet officials warned the defense minister that the terror attack and the tension surrounding the Temple Mount will spur copycat attacks.
Israel comes to its senses only after blood is shed. It is to be hoped that the cost in human life so far will be enough to bring the Israeli leadership to its senses, and that it will not be tempted to put the security forces’ prophecies to the test. Israel should remove the metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount immediately and reach understandings with the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that controls and manages the Islamic sites on the Temple Mount, on alternatives for maintaining security.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows this is the right thing to do. He made the decision to install the detectors hastily, without holding a serious discussion about it, and thus deviated from the responsible path he had previously pursued. Even though he knew the Temple Mount was the most volatile site in the Middle East, he succumbed to the temptation to adopt a technical solution to a problem that involves delicate and complex layers of religion and of nationalism. Israel is convinced that it is trapped between two bad options: remove the metal detectors and show dangerous weakness in the battle for sovereignty, or leave them and ignite violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank and a crisis with the Muslim world. Since the future cannot be predicted, it is best to trust the assessments of the defense establishment, which warned against the latter option.
Netanyahu recently spoke publicly about his fear of an escalation or even of a religious war. For a few days he leaned toward removing the detectors. But when he arrived at the cabinet meeting, his fear of his rivals on the right got the better of his political sensibilities. He supported the recommendation of the police that the metal detectors should remain and gave it the authority to make decisions concerning the Temple Mount while relinquishing his own responsibility. Netanyahu dare not forget that the threats to his coalition are as nothing next to the lurking danger to the state and the entire region if he fails to come to his senses quickly.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.