Playing with fire
Fanatical Jews hone in on Al-Aqsa while Abbas seeks UN recognition for Palestine. In both directions, tensions rise, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
With the so-called "peace process" going nowhere, mainly due to Israeli refusal to give up territories it illegally occupies, and also to US unwillingness and/or inability to pressure Israel do so, the Israeli government continues to make provocations and "create facts" aimed at destroying all remaining chances for peace.
This week, Israeli authorities allowed a large number of fanatical Jewish settlers to enter and tour Al-Aqsa Mosque's esplanade. The settlers, dressed in religious attire and wearing kippa head-caps, were protected by a heavy police presence.
Israeli sources said the aim of the provocative intrusion into one of Islam's holiest sites was to "assert Jewish rights in the Temple Mount", using the Jewish name for the Haram Al-Sharif -- or Noble Sanctuary -- of Jerusalem.
The settlers were accompanied by "guides" who explained that the historical mosques in the area were erected on top of an ancient Jewish temple, a claim 45 years of intensive excavations beneath and around Al-Aqsa Mosque have failed to prove.
Messianic Jews, including the group known as Gush Emunim, or the Faithful Bloc, with which most settlers are affiliated, advocate the demolition of Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem in preparation for the "purification" of Israel, a process that would culminate with the appearance of the Redeemer -- the Jewish Messiah. That Messiah, according to some Jewish theologists, would build a worldwide Jewish empire that would be ruled from Jerusalem.
Muslim religious leaders are frustrated by the absence or lack of an adequate response by the Muslim world to what they view as an "an earth-shattering feat" being contemplated and planned for by messianic Jewish circles, in collusion and coordination with the Israel government.
The earth-shattering feat is an allusion to repeated Jewish threats to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to build on its ruins a Jewish temple that Jewish religious authorities say would accelerate and expedite the "redemption process".
Earlier this week, Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, warned the Jewish state that, "the demolition of Al-Aqsa Mosque would mean the demolition of Israel itself."
Speaking during an annual public gathering under the title "Al-Aqsa is in danger" in the Arab-Israeli town of Umm Al-Fahm this week, Salah said the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque would shake the ground under Zionism's feet.
"I have no iota of doubt in my mind that any reckless act against Al-Aqsa Mosque would spell Israel's destruction and ultimate death," said Salah before tens of thousands of enthusiastic Muslims who came from Arab towns and villages across Israel.
The latest Israeli provocation in Jerusalem, which coincided with major Jewish holidays, came days after the Israeli government decided to transform a large number of erstwhile army camps in the West Bank into settlements.
Israel had confiscated private Palestinian land upon which the camps were built on the grounds of military necessity.
A few weeks ago, a commission appointed by the Israeli government, the Levy Committee, recommended that all settlements and settlement outposts in the West Bank be declared illegal.
The government, which is coming under immense pressure from settler groups and pro-settler parties in the Knesset to implement the committee's report, said it would wait for the right timing to act on it.
Many observers and experts already believe the proliferation of Jewish colonies in the West Bank, coupled with the intensive Judaising of East Jerusalem, has already rendered the goal of establishing a viable Palestinian state, let alone one with East Jerusalem as its capital, unrealistic if not impossible.
In recent days, more than one Palestinian official was quoted as saying that the two-state solution strategy was in imminent danger of collapse.
Many Palestinians have come to the conclusion that the international community is only deceiving the Palestinians by allowing Israel to build more settlements on occupied land, which is effectively killing Palestinian hopes for a genuine state worthy of the name.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is due to formally ask the UN to accord "Palestine" non-member status, which doesn't require approval from the Security Council where the US, Israel guardian ally, could veto any pro-Palestinian resolution. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) now has observer status at the international organisation.
Most observers view the Palestinian gambit as an expression of frustration on the part of the Palestinian leadership that is facing a crushing economic crisis in addition to the political lockdown.
In the final analysis, Palestinians need an end to the Israeli occupation, not merely international recognition.
Finally, in what seems to be a sign of early electioneering on his part, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak reiterated earlier statements that Israel would be willing to unilaterally evacuate "isolated" Jewish settlements, yet annex large ones into "permanent borders".
"It would be better to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, but if that doesn't happen, we will need to start separating," he said.
Barak said it was time to look Israeli society in the eye and say "we manage to retain in Israel 80-90 per cent of the settlers who lived in the West Bank over the years at the government's initiative and with its encouragement."
"It would be a big achievement if we manage to bring them into Israel's permanent borders," he said.
Barak said his plan would help Israel not only vis-Ã-vis the Palestinians but only with the Arab-Muslim world.
However, very few Palestinians take Barak seriously, first because he doesn't call the shots in Israel and second because he is a mercurial politician who can't be trusted.
A statement by the Palestinian Ministry of Information called Barak's remarks "bunk".
"Politically, Barak has reached the menopause age of his life after a long career of murder, terror, prevarication and equivocation. Therefore, it would be wise not to give Barak's statements a weight bigger than they deserve," the statement added.