The deadly Palestinian protests that erupted in Jerusalem following the installation of magnetometers at the entrance to the Temple Mount should give the Trump administration pause.
“If magnetometers produced this kind of reaction, what reaction will there be to moving the American embassy to Jerusalem?” asked Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst and a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed last week the administration’s plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, telling the 2017 Christians United for Israel summit attendees that it is “not a question of if, it is only when.”
But Miller, a former peace negotiator, told The Jewish Week that such a move would “send a signal to Arabs that the U.S. recognizes Israel’s claim to the entire city [of Jerusalem]. That would almost certainly [lead to] a defense of Jerusalem and a focus on the Al-Harm Al Sharif/Temple Mount. …What has happened should send a signal that the Trump administration needs to be extremely deliberate in dealing with the Al-Harm Al Sharif/Temple Mount.”
The decision to install magnetometers was triggered by the July 14 killing of two Israeli Arab border policemen at the entrance to the Temple Mount by three Israeli Arabs who had stashed weapons on the Temple Mount. All three were shot and killed.
Although Palestinians complained that the magnetometers would create long lines and thus interfere with those trying to reach the Temple Mount for prayer, Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Israeli Arabs, said it was really a matter of sovereignty.
“They believe the Jews have no right to have a state or sovereignty over anything because Judaism has lost to Islam,” he explained. “Therefore, the problem in Jerusalem was not the metal detectors, the problem is that Muslims cannot and will not accept the State of Israel in general, sovereignty over Jerusalem and especially the Jewish running of the Temple Mount.”
Kedar, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said that although calm will be restored through “some temporary arrangements, they will work only until the next attack — which can come at any day.”
The Temple Mount has long been a source of tension and violence going back to the Hebron riots in 1929, according to Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University.
“The riots were triggered by claims that the Jews were threatening the al-Aqsa Mosque [on the Temple Mount],” he said. “It comes up periodically. In 1990 there was another round, and in September 2000 it happened again when [Ariel] Sharon walked onto the Temple Mount. You hear the same slogans and responses. There is always a pushback and it takes time for the Jewish side to regain some sort of access on the Temple Mount.
“In the last couple of years there has been a steady increase in Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount and pushes to expand the visits, and there has been more and more harassment of Jewish visitors. Now the Palestinians are pushing back on Israeli sovereignty and security control, using the metal detectors as an excuse.”
The Israeli security cabinet decided Monday to remove the magnetometers, as well as recently installed security cameras. The move came after Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urged him to remove the devices as quickly as possible.
Abdullah also agreed to permit a security guard at the Israeli Embassy in Amman to return to Israel after he shot and killed two Jordanians last weekend, one of whom tried to stab him. Jordan had initially refused to permit him to leave, suggesting he be investigated and perhaps even prosecuted.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, later took credit for what he said was the Trump administration’s role in helping to end the Israeli-Jordanian standoff.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Israel’s decision to remove the magnetometers was “seen by some as a dangerous precedent.”
“Israel took security measures that were necessary because you can’t have weapons on the Temple Mount,” he said.
But by capitulating to the protestors, the Israeli government angered the Israeli right, observed Nimrod Novik, the former chief policy adviser to Shimon Peres and the Israel Fellow of the Israel Policy Forum.
“They accused him of ‘yielding to Arab pressure’ and ‘undermining our sovereignty’ on the Temple Mount,” he said. “However, more fundamentally, this episode raises doubts whether in his third term the ‘new Bibi’ [Netanyahu] is different from the ‘old Bibi’ who stumbled into similar costly adventures in his first term, some two decades ago.”
In fact, a poll released Wednesday found that fully 67 percent of Israelis said they were dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of the situation. Some 68 percent said they believed installing security equipment at the entrance to the Temple Mount after the terrorist attack had been the right move. Removing the body scanners and metal detectors was “surrendering to terror,” according to 77 percent of Israelis polled by the Midgam group on behalf of Israel’s Channel Two.
Before the decision was made to remove the security equipment, another poll last Friday had shown a substantial increase in Netanyahu’s popularity.
Both Palestinian Authority [PA] and Fatah Party leaders have whipped up the Palestinian street with claims that Israel’s attempts to provide security at the Temple Mount are “violations” and “a step on the way to establishing the alleged Temple.” They claimed also that “the al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger” by being destroyed by Israel, according to Palestinian Media Watch.
The violent Palestinian demonstrations this rhetoric ignited led to the deaths of three Palestinian protestors and allegedly prompted a Palestinian to jump a fence and burst into an Israeli West Bank home in Halamish last Friday evening, stabbing to death three members of the Salomon family before he was shot and subdued.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, observed that the terrorist acted “knowing that the PA plans on paying him. He had the courage to kill because he knew it would put him on [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas’ guaranteed payroll for the rest of his life. From Friday evening, he is receiving $3,000 a month.”
In calling for the U.N. Security Council to act against such payments to terrorists, Danon invited Oran Almog, a victim of a Palestinian terror attack at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa in 2003, to speak to the U.N. Tuesday. Almog lost his vision in the attack, which killed 16, including five members of his family.
“The Palestinian leadership is paying salaries to terrorists and their families every single month,” Almog said. “Anyone who believes in the value of human life should act against these payments.”
The Knesset is now considering a bill that would deduct the amount of money the PA gives to terrorists and their families from the tax and tariff revenue Israel collects on behalf of the PA.
In addition, Congress is considering the Taylor Force Act, which would restrict U.S. economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza until the PA stops the program that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said “incentivizes terrorism.”