Why is it so difficult for Israel’s government to comprehend that Jerusalem is the focal point of our struggle with the Palestinians and that as long as we don’t find a peaceful solution to the conflict, there will be no peace and quiet in Jersualem? Why doesn’t this government comprehend that Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif, whatever we choose to call it, is the only place in the West Bank where the Israeli authorities cannot do whatever they want and that is precisely the reason the Palestinians seek to cause trouble there, as long as there is no progress in the Peace Process ?
Israel is limited in its freedom of action on the mount because of the status quo with the Waqf (the Muslim religious trust) and agreements with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and should therefore have an added interest in keeping the situation in Jerusalem calm, not only on the Temple Mount. Nevertheless, the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem have been systematically neglected over many years, their infrastructure has deteriorated (or not been built), the supply of basic utilities is not assured at all times of the day and thousands of students remain without adequate space, being taught in poorly equipped school buildings.
In addition, the construction of the security wall to separate the West Bank from Jerusalem, a Jerusalem united in words only, has severely affected the life of Palestinian Jerusalemites who have been separated from easy and direct access to the eastern suburbs of the city. They need to travel an inordinate amount of time to travel even short distances since the security wall has only a few passages placed for security considerations, not convenience of the local inhabitants.
At the same time, the rightwing coalition forming Israel’s government is under considerable pressure to change the rules on the Temple Mount to permit Jews to pray there, in contravention of the status quo. Indeed it’s not easy to explain why Jews should not be allowed to pray on the mount while Muslims are, but as long as the conflict with the Palestinians is not settled, this issue is unlikely to be resolved. The Palestinians are scared that permission to pray is only the first step on the path to change the rules on the Mount in favor of the Jews even further, a fear that cannot easily be discounted when listening to the voices in the government. As it is, there are many Muslim and Islamic elements involved who all want to be considered saviors of the Al-Aqsa mosque (located on the Mount) even though that house of worship is in no danger whatsoever.
In this charged situation, Israel now introduces a further tightening of the laws against stone throwing, a preferred Palestinian method of protest in Jerusalem. What will certainly happen is that the prisons will be even more crowded with underage Palestinians, the unrest will only increase, the world will protest and Jerusalem will bleed even more.
There is no action Israel can take that will attenuate the friction on the Temple Mount, other than immediate and direct negotiations over the creation of a Palestinian State. That apparently is not in the cards even though PM Netanyahu has declared his willingness to do just that. As always, we will only do what has to be done when left with no other alternative. And as has happened before, that may well be too late to prevent another round of major bloodshed.