The factor behind the Temple Mount riots

The factor behind the Te

Jerusalem riots 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Jerusalem riots 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
With police mobilizing to secure Jerusalem following days of Palestinian rioting, it is instructive to offer some context for clashes that have been taking place on the Temple Mount and at scattered sites throughout east Jerusalem. On Sunday, Palestinian protesters hurled rocks and bottles at police after Israel barred men between the ages of 18 and 45 from ascending the site. That restrictive order was imposed in response to Palestinian Authority calls for Arabs to flood the holy site to protect Al-Aksa Mosque from so-called Jewish extremists. The following day, Palestinian and Israeli Arab unrest continued with rock-throwing incidents throughout Jerusalem's Old City and with the stabbing of an Israeli border guard in Shuafat. The unrest, however, is not spontaneous and is not occurring in a vacuum. The riots are being directly incited by the PA, whose official media outlets and institutions are stoking Arab flames by claiming right-wing extremist Jews are attempting to threaten Al-Aksa Mosque - a decades-old blood libel that should be easily dismissible in light of heavy Israeli restrictions on Jews and Christians from ascending the Mount during most hours of the day, whereas Muslims are usually free to access the site 24/7. Indeed, Israeli law prohibits Jews and Christians from praying on the site. If any so-called extremist Jew attempted to enter Al-Aksa, he or she would likely be immediately removed from the Temple Mount by Israeli police, who follow Jewish tour groups very closely and coordinate with the Wakf, the Islamic custodians of the site. The PA is not just inciting violence; its officials also assist the riots. On Monday Israeli security forces released from custody Jerusalem's senior PA official, Khatem Abed Al-Kadr, who had been detained on suspicion of inciting riots. The PA-aligned Islamic Movement is reportedly even sponsoring buses to transport young, riled-up Israeli Arabs to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from Umm el-Fahm. In a conversation earlier this week, Dimitri Diliani, the spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party in Jerusalem, did not deny his group's involvement in the riots. "Palestinian political factions, including Fatah, are firm on defending the political, national and religious rights of the Palestinian people," Diliani said, "and it's evident now we will continue defending Al-Aksa Mosque as well as our rights in Jerusalem as a whole." WE KNOW from history that riots emanating from the Temple Mount traditionally are pre-planned and are part of a larger Palestinian nationalist strategy. For example, in September 2000, the Palestinians started the second intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshippers after prime-ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon visited the site. At first, the Palestinians claimed the stone-throwing riots were spontaneous. Later, top PA officials, including Yasser Arafat and his deputy, Marwan Barghouti, admitted the Temple Mount clashes were pre-planned. So why the current clashes? This all actually began two weeks ago, immediately following a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama had hoped the meeting would initiate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state within two years. During his speech to the UN General Assembly days before the riots, Obama used strongly worded language to call for the creation of a "viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967." The term "occupation" routinely is used by the Palestinians as well as some countries hostile to the Jewish state in reference to Israel's presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. It is unusual for US presidents to use the term, although Jimmy Carter once famously called Israel's presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem "illegal." It seems the PA, emboldened by Obama's speech, may be using the riots as a pressure tactic to send a clear message to Israel - if negotiations do not create a state in the near future, expect another intifada. The PA under Arafat was notorious for negotiating on the one hand while leading a violent campaign against Israel on the other. Already, some of Obama's policies have hardened Palestinian bargaining positions. Most notably, the PA is now demanding a complete halt to Jewish construction in the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem in line with the US president's same demand. The PA never before set a settlement freeze as a prerequisite for talks. ANOTHER FACTOR may be at play in sparking the recent Jerusalem clashes. The PA's involvement with the Mount riots come after the Palestinian public expressed disapproval with a decision by Abbas to call for the delay of a UN Human Rights Council vote regarding a UN report that accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during Israel's defensive war in Gaza in December and January. That UN report, authored by South African judge Richard Goldstone, has been slammed here as anti-Israel. The report equates Israel, which worked to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, to Hamas, a terrorist organization that utilized civilians as human shields and fired rockets from Palestinian hospitals and apartment buildings. Israeli security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abbas likely was in part using the Temple Mount clashes to incite against Israel and deflect Palestinian outcry, including from Hamas, stemming from his agreement to delay the UN vote. The writer is Jerusalem bureau chief for and is author of the recently released The Late Great State of Israel: How enemies within and without threaten the Jewish country's survival.