Palestinian clashes with Israeli police on Sunday and on the day before Yom Kippur near the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City have made foreign diplomats wonder whether Israel is enacting a new policy on the Temple Mount, which is serving to exacerbate tensions.Meaning that the time-honored method of threatening and instigating violence has allowed Muslims to support their bigoted goal of keeping the holiest Jewish site free of Jews.
Media outlets and senior Palestinian Authority officials have contributed significantly to this perception after repeatedly claiming that Israel is planning to allow a group of "extremist settlers" to pray at the mosque. Even the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has blamed Israel for implementing a dangerous policy on the Temple Mount that is liable to lead to a conflagration.
Yet, reality, as always, is a bit more complicated. The status quo in the plaza surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque has in fact not changed since 2003. The entry of Jews and tourists is permitted on the Temple Mount from 7:30 to 10 A.M., and from 12:30 to 1:30 P.M. These visits do not have to be coordinated with officials of the Waqf (Muslim trust) and take place without any interference. Indeed, last Thursday, for example, the area was totally calm. At 1 P.M., dozens of tourists could be seen wandering around the plaza.
The advent of the holiday season in Israel, combined with the desire of Palestinian politicians to win a few minutes of fame, has recently led, however, to various violent incidents.
At present, the PA is not doing enough to ease tensions, while the Islamic Movement's northern faction is apparently working in concert with a number of Palestinian figures in an effort to spark an escalation of hostilities on the mount.
Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, the head of the Waqf, said that just before Yom Kippur, a number of Jewish groups distributed notices announcing that they planned to visit the Temple Mount on the eve of the holiday. In response, the former mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, called on Muslim worshipers to gather at Al-Aqsa Mosque last Sunday, to defend it against the Jews. His call was also taken up by Hatem Abdel Khader, the Fatah official who holds the Jerusalem portfolio, and other factions belonging to the Islamic Movement.
After morning prayers that day, some 200 people gathered at the square waiting for the Jews to enter.
"The police knew about this," Al-Khatib said. "One of the officers who is responsible for police coordination with the Waqf, called me and I warned him not to open the Temple Mount to Jewish worshipers."
At 7:30 A.M., the Mughrabim Gate was opened and a group of tourists entered the compound. Muslims began hurling stones at them and at the police officers who tried to hurry the tourists away from the scene.
Sunday, however, it seemed as if the appropriate conclusions had been drawn: After learning that dozens of Muslims planned to await the arrival of "extremist Jews" at the Temple Mount, the police decided that the entire area would remain closed to non-Muslim visitors.
Back in 2006, I called this Islamic method of using threats of violence to get their way "the diplomacy of fear" and it hasn't changed one bit. (I even found an example from 1877.)