Palestinians Aren't Missing the Chance to Fan the Flames

Israel sparked the most recent crisis over Jerusalem, but both the U.S. and the PA are adding fuel to the fire.

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Even though it was Israel who sparked the most recent crisis over Jerusalem, it is not the only player adding fuel to the fire. The behavior of the Obama administration - with senior officials trying to outdo each other in public reprimands of Israel - is reminiscent of the intentionally tough stance taken on the Netanyahu government a year ago. Nor are the Palestinians missing the opportunity to fan the flames.

True, the prime minister played into their hands on the matter of proposed construction in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, and Jerusalem's mayor is still at it, but the Palestinian Authority is playing a very dangerous game - perhaps the most dangerous of it all - over Jerusalem and specifically the Temple Mount.

Mohammed Dahlan, who is not known for his religious fervor, Khatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah, and others called Sunday on Israeli Arabs and residents of East Jerusalem to go to the Temple Mount today to "protect it from the Jews."

A pamphlet Sunday issued a similar call; it was signed by the National and Islamic Forces, an organization that coordinated activities during the second intifada and in practice does not exist today. The pamphlet said that a great 18th-century rabbi foretold that the opening of the Hurva Synagogue, which is expected today, will inaugurate the opening of the Third Temple and therefore Al-Aqsa Mosque must be defended.

It is doubtful that Dahlan or Abdel Kader genuinely believes Al-Aqsa is threatened. There's a different reason behind their call: Fatah watched Hamas steal the show from the Palestinian Authority in managing the struggle over the Temple Mount in recent weeks. Grassroots activists from the Islamist Movement in Israel led the demonstrations. Meanwhile, the police in Israel arrested many of them, and Fatah believes this is the time to take advantage of that success. If the government of Israel has become a punching bag for the White House, another round of violence at the Temple Mount will only serve Palestinian interest.

Fatah wants to ride the tiger and use future clashes for its needs. That is why Abdel Kader held a meeting at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem with senior Fatah activists in the city and representatives of trade associations in the Old City. It was decided to hold a two-hour strike at 11 A.M. These are the hours when pupils leave school and go to noon prayer, perfect timing for yet another lunch break of riots.

Such meetings were held at the Ambassador in the past. In September 2000, on the eve of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, senior Fatah officials in the city met there to plan the protest over Sharon's visit, which led to the outbreak of the second intifada.

Israel apparently is not taking any chances this time. Defense Minister Ehud Barak heeded a recommendation by the police heads and extended the closure of the West Bank to prevent Palestinians' being brought in to bolster demonstrations in East Jerusalem. Barak's decision ran counter to the recommendations of Central Command and officials coordinating activities in the territories, who thought closure was unnecessary.

While the PA prepares for the next stage in the struggle with public protests (easier to sell for world sympathy than suicide bombings) an incident in Ramallah recalled other days. An anti-terrorist police squad arrested Maher Auda, known as the Last of the Mohicans in the city's Hamas terrorist underground, who is believed responsible for the murder of some 70 Israelis.

Auda, 47, was the right-hand man of Ibrahim Hamed, the head of the Hamas network in Ramallah, who was arrested in 2006. Auda, who has evaded capture for a decade, has been described by a Shin Bet agent as "even more dangerous than Hamed." His wanting to see his family led to his arrest. He was captured without a battle.

Posted by Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel on March 15, 2010

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