Palestinian protesters argue with an IDF soldier during a protest against the visit of President Reuven Rivlin to Hebron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas and Fatah warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that a visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron would “escalate” tensions.
Deputy Transportation, Science and Technology Minister Tzipi Hotovely is attempting to organize a West Bank visit that would include the Gush Etzion bloc, the Kiryat Arba settlement and the adjacent Jewish community in Hebron, which is often a flashpoint of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Should the visit occur, it’s expected to happen after Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress
but before the March 17 election.
The trips are part of Netanyahu’s attempt to sway right-wing voters to support the Likud over Bayit Yehudi.
Just last week, he visited the settlement of Eli and spoke with students in the Bnei David Yeshiva, whose head Rabbi Eli Sadan has voiced support for Bayit Yehud.
A prime ministerial visit to Hebron is highly unusual and last occurred in 2002 when former prime minister Ariel Sharon came to the city after a Palestinian terror attack along Worshipers Way, a road that links Hebron with neighboring Kiryat Arba, killed 12 IDF soldiers.
Netanyahu’s last visit as prime minister was in 1998 during his first term in office when he and president Ezer Weizmann paid a condolence call to the family of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan who was murdered by terrorists.
Earlier this month, President Reuven Rivlin made a formal visit to Hebron
, the first such presidential visit since Weizmann, when he delivered a short speech to celebrate the completion of a renovation project at Hebron’s Heritage Museum and visited the Cave of the Patriarchs.
That trip passed largely without incident.
But Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh said a Netanyahu visit to the site where the Ibrahimi Mosque is also located would have “dangerous repercussions.”
Fatah is opposed to the visit because it would “add fuel to the fire and escalate tensions, turning the political conflict into a religious one,” he said, claiming that Netanyahu was “exploiting holy sites as part of his election campaign.”
“We won’t allow anyone to divide it or Judaize it and we will defend all our holy sites,” the Fatah spokesman said.
Hamas issued a similar warning, saying the Palestinians wouldn’t remain idle in the face of this “dangerous escalation.”