On July 14th the Israeli police took control of the Temple Mount following a deadly shooting. The Islamic Waqf, which had maintained control of the site for 50 years, was temporarily kicked out by Israeli police. The police installed security cameras, metal railings, and metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount and then opened it back to the public a few days later.
However, the Waqf refused to return until the metal detectors were removed. They considered it to be a desecration of the holy site. Just a few days ago, Israel finally capitulated to their demands and removed the metal detectors, a move that was intended to defuse the situation and restore calm to what was quickly becoming a Third Intifada.
However, the Waqf has refused to return until the metal railings and all security cameras are removed, which is a demand the Israeli government is less likely to accept given that 77% of the Israeli public believes that the government surrendered on the issue of the metal detectors.
It was just announced by Ikrema Sabri, the head of Jerusalem's Supreme Islamic Committee, that they will not return until all their demands are met:
Ikrema Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Committee, said that even after Israel removed metal detectors and [some] cameras from the site, more steps were required to restore calm. He said mass prayer protests would continue until the gates of the compound were opened, metal railings and an iron bridge removed and all cameras taken down.
He said a lawyer working on behalf of the Muslim administration of the holy site would be in touch with Israeli police about it.
“We will not enter the mosque until these things are implemented,” he told The Associated Press. “Now we are awaiting the response of the police.”
Israel’s security cabinet announced Monday that in place of the metal detectors it would employ non-intrusive “advanced technologies,” reportedly smart cameras that can detect hidden objects. The new security system is said to be set up in the next six months at a cost of $28 million.
And so the Temple Mount now sits virtually empty. The Israeli government only intended to take control of the site temporarily in order to install security measures, but because of the Waqf's boycott Israel has now had de facto control of the Temple Mount for 12 days.
The Times of Israel reported just a few hours ago that Israel and the Palestinians had reached an impasse and the situation is a stalemate at best or headed for an Intifada this Friday at worst:
Although for a moment it seemed that the metal detector crisis had ended Monday night, with the removal of the electronic gates and cameras from the entrances to the Temple Mount, we are evidently still in the midst of an impasse that may last for quite some time.
Both sides, and especially the two leaderships, each for their own political reasons, appear to be exacerbating the situation, looking for confrontation rather than calm.
On the one side, there is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who, along with his Fatah movement, explicitly called Tuesday for an escalation of the struggle and for large-scale demonstrations against Israel on Friday. This seems to be an attempt to extricate the PA leader from the depths of irrelevance.
On the other is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who seemed to be profoundly impacted by the results of Tuesday’s Channel 2 survey, which indicated deep public dissatisfaction with his response to the Temple Mount crisis. Hours after the poll’s publication, he ordered the Defense Ministry not to evacuate some 120 settlers who illegally occupied a contested home in Hebron, in addition to instructing police to individually check every worshiper ascending to pray at the Temple Mount — a decision perceived by the Palestinian public as a declaration of war.
Both sides continue their gallop toward a deeper, bloodier confrontation, and there is no responsible adult in the room to stop the deterioration.
Anyone who may have expected Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to intervene in the police’s war against the security establishment, or perhaps speak out against Netanyahu’s decisions of late, has quickly learned that a county long acclimated to operating without a foreign minister has also functioned for the past two weeks without a defense chief. The man simply does not exist.
The indications that the crisis is far from over are evident on several levels. First, Tuesday’s demonstrations by Muslim worshipers, which spiraled into violence outside the entrances to the Temple Mount, involved thousands of demonstrators refusing to enter the Al-Aqsa compound despite all of their demands being met. Asked what exactly they were protesting at that point, their responses were as absurd as something you might hear on a TV sitcom...
Abbas has given a green light to the Tanzim faction to organize demonstrations and rallies this Friday, but no one knows how they will end. This quite easily could lead to shooting battles with IDF soldiers, casualties, deaths and even a scenario, mentioned more than once in recent years, which includes all the ingredients necessary for an intifada. It certainly won’t end well.
Of course, Netanyahu is central to this story as well. It is hard to understand his decision Tuesday. Just the night before, the cabinet decided to remove the metal detectors in order to calm tensions. But less than a day later, Netanyahu announced that he had ordered manual inspections of all worshipers. If before there was no fuel or spark, Netanyahu has now provided it. The top headline Wednesday morning in Israel Hayom, Netanyahu’s home-court newspaper, makes it clear what his patron Sheldon Adelson thinks about him, and the prime minister is feeling politically threatened.
The survey conducted by Channel 2 yesterday indicating that more than 70% of Israelis disapproved of the government’s handling of the current crisis and had supported the installation of the metal detectors in the first place made it clear to Netanyahu where the political winds were blowing. From this, the decision to order manual inspections was made accordingly.
Was the prime minister’s decision made with the knowledge of the Shin Bet security service and the IDF? Doubtfully so. But they, as with the embassy crisis in Jordan, will be forced to put out the fires Netanyahu has created, nonetheless.
One last factor that needs to be raised as it is hardly addressed: the Palestinian public. Many on the Israeli side are now saying, rightfully, “It’s not about the metal detectors.” The detectors were the excuse. They were the magic word that called fort the religious and nationalistic demons that the defense establishment has feared for so long.
And now go try and put the genie back in the bottle. Go try and calm the Palestinian public in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These are people who have long been frustrated with the status quo and who have long looked toward their leadership without finding a sympathetic ear.
The Palestinian Authority was the finger in the dike for all those years, holding back a general collapse at a much more violent level. It prevented widespread demonstrations during the recent prisoners’ strike and arrested hundreds of suspects planning on carrying out terror attacks in recent years. Now the Palestinian public is hearing its leadership speak in a different voice — one of escalation and confrontation. Hence the great danger. If something dramatically positive does not happen in the next few days, we may find ourselves marching into the abyss.
Buckle-up because this situation is far from over.