A provocative visit to Al Aqsa Mosque - GulfToday

A provocative visit to Al Aqsa Mosque

A woman walks near the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Aqsa mosque compound in the old city of Jerusalem. AFP

A woman walks near the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Aqsa mosque compound in the old city of Jerusalem. AFP

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s provocative visit to Al Aqsa Mosque compund, the third holiest Islamic shrine, on Tuesday evoked condemnation from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, apart from the Palestinian leaders. The far-right Jewish politician wrote on his Twitter account that the “site is open to all and if Hamas thinks if it threatens me it will deter me, they should understand that times have changed.”

Hamas warned that such a move would be crossing a “red line”. Ofir Gendelman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arab-speaking spokesman, said that the “situation was calm” after Ben-Gvir left the mosque compound. The Palestinian foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns the storming of Al Aqsa Mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict.” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh described Ben-Gvir’s visit as part of an attempt to turn the shrine into a “Jewish temple”. The Jordanian government summoned the Israeli ambassador and warned that Ben-Gvir’s visit violated “the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem.”  

White House National Security Council spokesperson was quite categorical that maintaining the status quo of the holy sites was imperative. He said, “The United States firmly believes for preservation of status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem” and also said that the US calls the Netanyahu government to preserve its commitment to the status quo of the holy sites. The UN Secretary-General too emphasised the importance of maintaining the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Ben-Gvir’s visit to the compound of the Al Aqsa Mosque is similar to what Likud hardliner Ariel Sharon did in 2000 when he made a similar visit and which triggered the Second Intifada. Sharon’s provocative act did not in any way strengthen the international position of Israel, though it seemed at that time that it was meant to marginalise the implementation of the Oslo Accords that pointed to a two-state solution.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a hardliner like Sharon, but quite clearly he does not subscribe to the extremist Jewish politics represented by Ben-Gvir. Netanyahu had to make a deal with Ben-Gvir to form his government, but it is to be seen whether he would want to risk the outbreak of violence from the Palestinian side, especially when world opinion, and just of the Arab and Islamic world, is against jeopardising the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem, as well as the status of Jerusalem itself. East Jerusalem, though under Israeli occupation, remains an Arab enclave and Israel would have to indulge in use of military force to change its character.

The Netanyahu government is bent on continuing with its occupation of the West Bank and defending the illegal Jewish settlements in the area. But it is quite conscious of the fact that any foolhardy move to threaten the Al Aqsa Mosque would leave Israel in a most precarious situation. And going by the desire of the Israeli government, and of Israeli politicians of both the Labour and its allies on the left, and the Likud and its allies on the right, to reach out to Arab governments in the regions and establish diplomatic and trade relations, it does not seem likely that Israel would want to alienate its Arab neighbours and also its closest ally, the US. Prime Minister Netanyahu would then have no choice but to rein in the extremist elements in his government like Ben-Gvir. The Jewish settlers in the West Bank are aggressive and provocative like Ben-Gvir but Israel society in general may not want to risk political and economic stability of the Jewish state.

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