Over the years, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators have considered Jerusalem to be among the last issues to tackle because the complex mix of politics and religion stirs deep passions.
As we see today, these can turn volatile with deadly consequences.
Two Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, offered creative proposals that recognized both Israeli and Palestinian connections to Jerusalem.
But Palestinian leaders spurned those ideas – which included sharing the Old City and the Temple Mount – as they rejected comprehensive peace plans in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that could have resolved the conflict.
Instead, Palestinian leaders, backed by Arab and Muslim countries including Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab countries that signed peace treaties with Israel, have consistently propagated myths about Israeli designs on the Temple Mount, nurturing a disingenuous narrative that rejects any Jewish link to the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall, and denies the fact that Jewish temples existed there thousands of years ago.
Truth is the first casualty in conflicts. On Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have in essence murdered truth, making it into another Palestinian “martyr.” And what’s worse, much of the media and many world leaders are complicit in the crime.
US Secretary of State John Kerry calls for “clarity” on the status of the Temple Mount, as if there is something unclear. France seeks a UN Security Council resolution to send international observers “to protect” the Temple Mount. And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemns “extremists” on both sides, equating Israel’s defensive responses with the actions of Palestinian terrorists.
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World leaders should be speaking out clearly, loudly and unequivocally in support of Israel’s longstanding commitment, in word and deed, to the status quo on the Temple Mount. From 1948-1967, when Jordan controlled the Old City, Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, and synagogues were destroyed.
Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated affirmations of Israeli policy protecting all religious sites, ensuring Muslim access to mosques, are drowned out by continuous, vehement hostility.
One voice of reason in the current discussion was UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova, who warned that a Palestinian proposal to declare the Western Wall an “integral part” of al-Aksa mosque could be seen to alter the status of the Old City and “further incite tensions.”
While the Western Wall language was removed at the last minute, the UNESCO executive board nonetheless adopted a resolution last week condemning Israel for “attempts to break the status quo” on the Temple Mount. Only six out of the board’s 58 members – the United States, Britain, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany and the Netherlands – voted “no.”
France and Italy were among the 25 that abstained, while 26 countries voted in favor of the measure, giving a boost to the relentless Palestinian campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.
Abbas made a calculated decision to force Jerusalem front and center with a combination of violence and appeals for UN actions to pressure Israel. To what end? Israel, after all, has called on Abbas to return to the direct, bilateral peace talks he abandoned in April 2014.
Characterizations of the youthful Palestinian perpetrators of the current wave of attacks on Israelis as individuals acting independently is another boldfaced lie generated by Palestinian leaders who take no responsibility for the violence they have inspired.
Abbas opened his UN General Assembly address on September 30 with a call for action to defend not just al-Aksa, but the entire Haram al-Sharif – the Arabic term for the Temple Mount – against alleged Israeli designs. Before coming to New York, he had encouraged Palestinian protesters to guard against Jews traversing the Temple Mount with their “filthy feet.”
“The inflammatory rhetoric of Abbas and Palestinian Authority officials and media outlets was sufficient to drive any Palestinian to murder Jews,” Khaled Abu Toameh observed in a Gatestone Institute column.
At the UN, Abbas announced the PA would no longer abide by the agreements it had signed with Israel, and he called on the “United Nations to provide international protection for the Palestinian people.”
Jerusalem, along with all the other outstanding issues, can and should be resolved in direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA. But first, to get the peace process back on track, Palestinian leaders must end their incitement and glorification of violence.
The author is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.
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