Israeli sovereignty over the Old City has been further diminished.
There is no way to see the outcome of the standoff over metal detectors at the Temple Mount as a triumph for Israel’s government. After first refusing to remove them despite threats of Palestinian demonstrations and violence, and then seeing the beginning of what might be a new “stabbing intifada,” the reversal in response to what amounts to blackmail from Jordan will not help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity, although it may help him in Washington.
No matter how it tries to spin the measures that will replace the detectors as providing the same or better security, it still looks as though the Israeli government surrendered to violent threats. The same Palestinian Authority that fomented this controversy and that should be held responsible for the bloodshed — the original terror attack at the Temple Mount that killed two policemen and the subsequent slaughter in Halamish as well as the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Amman — will claim victory.
The Palestinians have once again proved that they can exercise a veto over Israeli policy in Jerusalem even in the aftermath of a bloody terror attack and a reasonable decision to heighten security. Israeli sovereignty over the Old City has been further diminished. That will allow both Netanyahu’s critics to his right as well as centrist and left-wing opponents to decry what they are calling poor crisis ?management and weakness.
But if there is one silver lining in a cloud-filled sky, it is the way events have served as a tutorial in the complexity and irrationality of the conflict for the Trump administration. The president needs to realize that his ambition to leverage Saudi and Jordanian influence over the Palestinians into brokering the “ultimate deal” is a hopeless quest.
The sequence of events demonstrated that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not a real estate transaction in which compromise and smart negotiating can achieve a result. The willingness of Palestinians to take to the streets and even murder Jews over the detectors is proof that the core issues are not territory, settlements or security measures, but existential and religious concerns that are not currently susceptible to compromise.
Whether U.S. mediator Jason Greenblatt’s arrival in the region encouraged a solution in the aftermath of the attack on the embassy is unclear. Greenblatt may have provided American cover for the resolution of the standoff in which the safe return to Israel of an embassy guard who shot a terrorist attacker was traded for the detectors’ removal.
But if Greenblatt, the president, or a State Department that continues to recycle the same myths propagated by the Obama administration thinks the moral of the story is that more or better U.S. diplomacy will provide a path to a peace agreement, they weren’t paying attention to what preceded Netanyahu’s retreat. Everything that led from the initial terrorist attack to the decision to take down the metal detectors testifies to a conflict that is rooted in a Palestinian political culture in which intolerance for the Jewish presence in the country is decisive.
Netanyahu’s critics can point to a series of decisions that were bound to lead to an escalation of the problem. Any measure, even one as reasonable as putting up metal detectors at a holy site where guns were just smuggled in to carry out a double murder, was going to be interpreted by Palestinians as an intolerable offense to their national pride and faith. But the reason why that led to further murder and ultimately an Israeli retreat to avoid more bloodshed is the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” narrative that Palestinian leaders, including the supposedly moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, have employed for a century to ramp up hostility to the Jews.
The basis for the canard about Israel planning to harm the Temple Mount mosques is a desire to keep the historic plateau — the most sacred spot in Judaism where Jews are currently forbidden to pray in order to keep the peace — as well as the rest of the city and the country free of Jewish influence. The victory won by the Palestinians is one that will only encourage the same refusal to compromise that has doomed every peace initiative for a century, not to mention the 24 years since the Oslo Accords were signed.
President Donald Trump may think he can split the difference on real estate, but surely not even he thinks he can do the same with respect to religion. So long as that is true, the impetus to push Netanyahu to compromise on territory is pointless. While the prime minister may have gotten a black eye from the latest Temple Mount episode, the same events that wound up humiliating him may also serve to deter any desire by Trump to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors and exert further pressure on Israel.?
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter @jonathans_tobin.?