Analysis: Secrecy and capital strife

In the past works near Temple Mount set off three days of warfare and ignited the second intifada; relatively meagre protests from Muslims this time around attest to the bad conditions in the PA.

Temple mount work 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Temple mount work 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
How do you know that things are really bad in the Palestinian Authority? When they are so preoccupied with their internal strife that they can't find the time or the effort to take advantage of the Mughrabi Gate digging and escalate the situation into another round of organized chaos. If the opening of one end of a tunnel in the Muslim Quarter set off three days of warfare and Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount ignited the second intifada, you would expect the latest work at the entrance to the compound to have caused something a bit more impressive than the minor spate of stone-throwing during the last few days. One almost felt pity for the camera crews from around the world who got up early on Friday morning and waited breathlessly for some good old rioting. They didn't get much of a show for their money. Both sides, Palestinians and police, seemed to be going through the motions but weren't putting too much passion into it. If Yasser Arafat was still around, he would not have let such an opportunity pass him by. You could bet your last rubber bullet that we'd be mopping up the blood and the rais would be calling for a million martyrs to march on Jerusalem. But the fact that Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh are too busy extricating themselves from the Palestinian civil war to do an Arafat, doesn't mean that everything Israel did was necessarily well thought out. Bloodshed may have been avoided this time - and that could change at any moment - but it wouldn't have taken too much for the outcome to be drastically worse, and then we'd have another commission of inquiry to look forward to. And Amir Peretz couldn't say this time that he was new on the job. Peretz has been behaving over the last few days as if the Mughrabi excavation had already caused major bloodshed, blaming everyone else for irresponsibility and not informing him (these two might not amount to the same thing) and for good measure his reservations were leaked to the press almost as soon as they were presented to Ehud Olmert. He has since been roundly condemned by cabinet colleagues, including some from his own party, for making cynical political use of a delicate issue. But perhaps the public should be thankful to Peretz for putting the decision-making on show. National policy on sovereignty in Jerusalem is a bit like the goings-on regarding the nuclear reactor at Dimona and Mossad operations - they all come under the exclusive purview of the prime minister. There is a minister of Jerusalem Affairs but he has no ministry and since City Hall can't even collect the rubbish, no one is going to take the mayor's view into consideration. What's left is a small, discreet group of officials within the Prime Minister's Office, headed by the Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon, who attend to the capital's thorniest problems. Are they doing a good job or making a mess of it? No one can say because their deliberations and decisions are opaque. When it comes to espionage and stockpiling uranium, there's a lot to be said for secrecy, but since every plan to dig and build in Jerusalem is eventually going to see the light of day, the obsessive secrecy surrounding the issue seems more of a liability than a precaution. Instead of authorizing it through back-channels, the plan to build a bridge to the Mughrabi Gate could have been presented openly to the planning authorities, allowing the public, including Muslim groups, to challenge it in the normal way. That would have been a much better way of demonstrating Israel's sovereignty over the city than having to station thousands of policemen to protect the excavations. Successive governments might have believed that keeping quiet about plans for disputed areas of Jerusalem would reduce tensions and hostile diplomatic pressure, but a leadership that is confident in its belief that Jerusalem in its entirety is the capital of Israel could achieve more by being open with its plans regarding the city.