Israel was back in the cross-hairs of both the international media and the Arab and Muslim worlds today after violence led to a temporary shutdown of access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and its mosques. Condemnations of the Jewish state came in hot and heavy from various Islamic sources and even Jordan, a country that has a peace treaty with Israel and is dependent on it for security cooperation. Few bothered to mention, let alone condemn, the attempted murder of a Jewish activist that led to the closure or the drumbeat of incitement from Palestinian leaders that helped create the trouble. But while, as our Seth Mandel pointed out, the shooting generated biased media coverage that drew on the same themes as those inciting the violence, there is more to unwrap here than that. The obsessive focus on keeping Jews out of Judaism’s most sacred site and indeed, out of much of Jerusalem tells us all we need to know about why peace is nowhere in sight.
From the frame of reference of those critical of Israelis in the quarrel over both their capital and the Temple Mount, the notion of Jews moving to parts of the city or visiting or even praying on the plateau above the Western Wall is deeply provocative. Arab sensibilities are inflamed by the presence of Jews in either majority-Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or those that are predominantly Arab. They are especially outraged by the spectacle of Jews walking around the Temple Mount in the vicinity of the mosques or, as is currently forbidden, praying there.
Most of the West accepts this way of looking at events as inherently reasonable and those, like the Jew who was shot yesterday, that advocate Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount or Israeli leaders who believe that Jews have every right to live in any part of their ancient capital that they want are termed extremist disturbers of the peace. Indeed, Jordanian King Abdullah, who finds himself compelled to verbally attack Israel because most of his subjects are opposed to the peace treaty and are unimpressed by the fact that it is the Jewish state that is the real guarantor of their ability to hold off ISIS and other Islamists, said that both Jewish and Islamic extremism was to blame for the problem.
But the thing to understand about this frame of reference is that it is based on a notion of communal peace that requires official segregation that would place parts of the city and a central Jewish holy place off-limits to Jews. That may sound reasonable to those who view the Jewish return to their historic homeland as something to be reversed rather than accepted. That not only begs the question as to whether Jews should accept such an abrogation of their rights. It also requires us to ask how such attitudes could possibly be compatible with any vision of peace.
Though branded as outrageous provocations by both Arabs and the U.S. State Department, the idea of allowing Jews to live throughout the city would not prevent a peace treaty if the Palestinians were ever to accept one. After all, Israel has already offered them independence and statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and was rejected in 2000, 2001, and 2008. They also refused to negotiate seriously about a two-state solution last year when that was on the table with Israel’s current government. Any peace treaty would have to guarantee that the city would remain open to both sides and especially the holy places. But if, as the recent violence seems to indicate, the Palestinians’ primary aim is to ensure that Jews are kept out of as many places as possible, including religious sites, what kind of peace would that be?
The willingness of Palestinian leaders hype the myth that Jews plan to blow up the Al-Aksa Mosque and other Muslim shrines has helped them inflame religious hatred and foment violence for nearly a century. It is rooted in a conviction that Jews have no right to be anywhere in the country. When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas tells his people to use any means possible to keep Jews out of the Temple Mount or parts of Jerusalem he isn’t just stating an opinion about a specific issue but sending a signal that the end of the Palestinian war on Zionism isn’t in sight.
Leaders on both sides should be doing all they can to keep Jerusalem calm, but peace can’t be bought by agreeing to a segregated apartheid-like ban on Jews visiting or living in some places. Rather than acquiescing to such dangerous attitudes, the U.S. should be sending a sharp message to Muslims that they must learn to live with their Jewish neighbors and share the city. But so long as Washington is shooting insults at Israel you can be sure that more violence and incitement is likely to follow.