The Muslim world celebrates the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan today. For the past three weeks, Friday morning has brought violent clashes between worshippers and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, with each side blaming the other for the violence.
Israel has accused the Palestinians, primarily Hamas and the other groups in the Gaza Strip, of trying to set the area ablaze. The Palestinians, for their part, see Israel’s actions – especially visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, where the mosque is located – as part of a larger plan whose ultimate goal is to divide the site and introduce a system of both Muslim and Jewish worship, like the one in place at the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron.
The images of police officers at Al-Aqsa stoked fears of an eruption, and the United Arab List suspended its participation in the governing coalition due to pressure on the party’s lawmakers, including the chair, Mansour Abbas. This in turn increased the threat to Naftali Bennett’s government, already in crisis after the defection of MK Idit Silman.
But the past few days have shown that both sides want quiet. A march in Tamra organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee did not draw large numbers. The calm at Al-Aqsa since last weekend also trickled down to Israel’s Arab communities. According to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that operates the Al-Aqsa compound, at least 250,000 people thronged the site and surrounding streets for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night in Islam. Apart from one incident, virtually nothing out of the ordinary occurred; most worshippers either dispersed quietly or decided to remain overnight for the last Friday prayers of Ramadan. This is an encouraging sign showing that the police, on the government’s orders, are trying to avoid unnecessary friction that could cause clashes and unrest, and it’s working. We have to hope they will continue acting this way until the end of the holiday.
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The government has a clear interest in getting through the holiday and the month peacefully. Quiet at Al-Aqsa will not only prevent a security escalation, but will also help Bennett and his partners save their government. But we cannot forget that unless Israel moves to renew talks with the aim of reaching a diplomatic solution, this quiet is only temporary. Clarifying the status quo with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could set the stage for negotiations. But that assumes there’s an Israeli partner for such talks in this “government of change.”