Temple Mount tensions further embolden Hamas

The events on the Temple Mount have emboldened Hamas, showing that they have more influence and support in Jerusalem than the PA or Jordan.

 PALESTINIANS SHOUT slogans at al-Aqsa Mosque compound after riots and clashes with Israeli security forces last week.  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
PALESTINIANS SHOUT slogans at al-Aqsa Mosque compound after riots and clashes with Israeli security forces last week.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the events of the past week in Jerusalem have been both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, he managed to get Israel into trouble with many countries by portraying it as the “aggressor.”

On the other hand, what happened at al-Aqsa Mosque compound (Temple Mount) has emboldened his rivals in Hamas and other extremist groups, showing that they have more influence and support in Jerusalem than the PA or Jordan.

The violence that erupted at the Temple Mount last Friday brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the center of the world’s attention, which has been almost entirely focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine since February. This came as good news for Abbas.

Since the Ukraine war began, Palestinian officials in Ramallah have been working hard to redirect the international community’s attention toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their major concern was that Israel would exploit the world’s preoccupation with the war to impose new facts on the ground, especially in Jerusalem and its Islamic holy sites. But in the past week these officials have expressed satisfaction with the wide coverage the violence in Jerusalem received in the international media.

 People gather around the Dome of the Rock, in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City October 28, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) People gather around the Dome of the Rock, in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City October 28, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

Abbas and his aides were even more delighted to see the large number of condemnations of Israel, in particular those coming from Arab and Islamic countries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s phone call to his Jordanian counterpart, during which he “emphasized the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” was also received with deep satisfaction in Ramallah and Amman. Abbas was also happy to receive a phone call from Blinken with a similar message.

Ever since the resumption of Jewish visits to the Temple Mount several years ago, the PA leadership has been accusing Israel of waging “religious war” on the Muslims.

The accusation, which continues to this day, aims to rally as many Arabs and Muslims as possible against Israel. The visits of the Jews are portrayed by Palestinian and Jordanian officials and media outlets as violent incursions by extremist settlers under the protection of the Israel Police.

Yet, the allegations failed to achieve their goal, as the reactions of most Arabs and Muslims have remained limited to lip service.

Scenes of Palestinians burning flags and photos of Arab leaders engaged in normalization with Israel managed to enrage many Arabs, especially those residing in the Gulf states. Those Arabs were further enraged when they saw Palestinians curse and harass Emirati and Bahraini visitors to the Temple Mount.

The Abraham Accords, which were signed between Israel and a number of Arab countries, as well as the apparent rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, left the Palestinians with the impression that the Arabs and Muslims do not really care about Israel’s ostensible scheme to change the status quo at the Temple Mount by allocating time and space for Jewish prayer there.

That’s why Palestinian officials in Ramallah were pleased this week to see the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia condemn “the Israel Police’s storming of al-Aqsa Mosque.” These officials, however, are aware that the UAE and Bahrain are not going to take drastic measures, such as recalling their ambassadors from Israel.

By contrast, the PA leadership appears to be content with the crisis that erupted this week between Israel and Jordan in the aftermath of the violence at the Temple Mount.

Since the beginning of the tensions at the holy site, the PA and Jordan have been holding intensive discussions on “defending” al-Aqsa Mosque and “thwarting” Israel’s alleged attempt to alter the status quo. The feeling in Ramallah is that the Jordanians are the only ones who are siding with the Palestinians.

“The State of Palestine commended the courageous Jordanian stances expressed by King Abdullah of Jordan and the Jordanian government, parliament and people in defending Jerusalem and the Christian and Islamic holy sites,” the PA said in a statement issued by its foreign ministry. “The State of Palestine and its people highly appreciate the diplomatic activity led by King Abdullah to expose the Israeli aggression on al-Aqsa Mosque.”

THE PA and Jordan, nonetheless, have good reason to be worried about the events of the past week. The violence that erupted at the Temple Mount has shown that Ramallah and Amman have little influence, if any, over the young men and women who clashed with the Israeli security forces.

The Jordanian-controlled Wakf Islamic religious trust, which is responsible for administering the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, failed to stop dozens of rioters from entering the mosque with stones and fireworks. The Wakf has dozens of security guards stationed at the Temple Mount, but they did not intervene to stop the rioters and thugs from sneaking into the mosque.

Similarly, the PA, which has its own supporters and representatives at the Temple Mount, did not do anything to stop the rioters from storming into al-Aqsa Mosque with a large cache of stones and other objects.

On the eve of Ramadan, some Israeli and US officials approached the PA and Jordan and asked them to work toward preventing an outbreak of violence in Jerusalem, particularly the Temple Mount.

But instead of appealing for calm, Ramallah and Amman ramped up their rhetorical attacks on Israel, warning that allowing Jews to enter the Temple Mount would ignite “religious war” and plunge the entire region into a fresh cycle of violence.

The PA and Jordan do not feel comfortable admitting that supporters of Hamas and other extremist groups are the ones who call the shots at the Temple Mount. It’s easier for Ramallah and Amman to hold Israel solely responsible for the violence than denounce the rioters who desecrated al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, the PA and Jordan seem to have scored a diplomatic and propaganda achievement by convincing many in the international community that it was Israel that planned and initiated the violence.

While the violence seems to have served Abbas’s goal of shifting the blame toward Israel, he nevertheless appears worried that he was excluded from the first stage of the mediation efforts to restore calm.

Instead of talking to Abbas, the Egyptians, Qataris and the United Nations chose to negotiate with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar.

According to Palestinian sources, Abbas was “furious” for being sidelined by the mediators, mainly because this allows Hamas to score more points with the Palestinian public and gain more legitimacy in the international arena.

Abdullah, for his part, is worried that the violence at the Temple Mount and the rising tensions with Israel could cost the Hashemites their status as custodians of the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. He is well aware that Palestinian teenagers hurling stones at Israeli police officers have more influence than his Wakf in Jerusalem. But that does not mean that the monarch is prepared to walk away from the city.

In recent years, reports have surfaced that Israel may allow Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Islamic countries to replace the Hashemites as the sole custodians of the holy sites. The reports are said to have angered Abdullah, who has since been making a huge effort to reassert the royal family’s role in tending the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. He does not seem to be worried if Hamas presents itself as the “defender” of Jerusalem, as long as that does not affect the Hashemites’ status as “custodians” of the holy sites.

Like Abbas, Abdullah is also worried about the increasing role Hamas and other Islamist groups are playing at the Temple Mount.

Videos and photos featuring rioters wrapped in Hamas flags and chanting slogans in support of Hamas arch-terrorist Mohammed Deif over the past week have undoubtedly left Abdullah perturbed. Still, he does not seem to be worried if Hamas presents itself as the “defender” of Jerusalem, as long as that does not affect the Hashemites’ status as “custodians” of the holy sites.

In Ramallah, PA officials were also unhappy to see the Hamas supporters leading the riots.

THERE’S NO doubt that the inflammatory statements that came from Ramallah and Amman before and during the events of the past week served the interests of Hamas and other extremists in orchestrating the riots at the Temple Mount.

Abbas and Abdullah would have been happy to see the rioters raise their photos; instead, they got Hamas banners and flags, and were forced to watch and hear Palestinians calling on the Gaza-based terrorist groups to fire rockets at Israel.

Now, it appears that Abbas and Abdullah are desperately trying to extinguish the very fire they helped ignite, not out of concern for Israel’s security, but out of fear of being totally removed from the holy site.

But because they don’t dare to speak out against the young men and women who have turned al-Aqsa Mosque into a battlefield and spoiled the Ramadan celebrations and prayers for hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers, the current strategy of the PA and Jordan is to get the international community to exert pressure on Israel to halt Jewish “provocations.”

Even if the situation does calm down after Ramadan ends (as expected), it’s evident that the status quo has indeed shifted at the Temple Mount.

But it’s not Israel that has changed the status quo; rather, it’s the shabab (youths) and Hamas who have managed to create a new reality in which they are now the “custodians” and “defenders” of al-Aqsa Mosque.•