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Gantz indicates he’ll demand cancellation of Jerusalem right-wing parade

Defense minister says he will oppose holding highly charged event on Thursday if it requires extraordinary security measures and endangers public order

Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Saturday said he will demand a right-wing nationalist parade through Jerusalem’s Old City be called off if it “requires extraordinary security measures and endangers public order and diplomatic processes.”

The controversial march is set to take place in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 10, after police canceled the annual Jerusalem Day march mid-event May 10 when Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward the city.

Gantz released the statement following a meeting with the military and police chiefs, the attorney general, and other top security officials. The defense minister said he stressed to all officials present the need for responsible, sensitive behavior. Notably absent from the meeting was Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, whose office oversees police.

In response to Gantz’s announcement, far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich called the defense minister “cowardly.”

“We didn’t wait for a Jewish, independent, sovereign state for 2,000 years only to have a cowardly defense minister publicly bow to Hamas’s terror threats (and invites more threats and more terrorism) and seek to prevent Jews from marching with Israeli flags in Jerusalem, our holy city and the united capital,” tweeted Smotrich, urging Netanyahu and Ohana to announce the march will be held as planned.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hebrew media earlier on Saturday that police would make the final call on whether the march would be held. “Israel has returned to routine, there are no current restrictions and Jews are visiting the Temple Mount,” the official said.

Leaders of the left-wing Labor, Meretz and Joint List parties warned earlier Saturday of the potential negative consequences of the march and indicated they believed it could be a deliberate attempt to thwart the formation of the so-called “change government.”

Police chiefs were set to hold a meeting Sunday to decide whether to approve the march. According to Channel 12, the parade was likely to be approved, though possibly with changes to its route, including a refusal to allow participants to pass through the volatile Damascus Gate area that was at the center of unrest in the capital last month.

Jewish women some covered with Israeli flags pray on Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the unification of the Old City during the 1967 Mideast war, at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak on Saturday said the parade was an attempt to reignite the region and thwart plans to swear in a new government.

“We are at the beginning of difficult days in which a lot of pressure and attempts will be made to thwart the change government, but in the end, a new era will begin here. The will to form a government that will unite the division in Israeli society will overcome all attempts to thwart it,” Ben-Barak said.

After previous unrest in Jerusalem was seized upon by Hamas to fire at the city on May 10, sparking 11 days of Israel-Gaza conflict and days of Arab-Jewish violence inside Israel, some critics of Netanyahu accused him of stoking the flames in the capital to foil his rivals’ attempts to form a government that would remove him from power. Amid the violence, Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas withdrew from coalition talks and Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett briefly ruled out a government by the change bloc.

However, both eventually returned to the table, and on Wednesday night the bloc announced it had agreed on forming a government. The planned coalition, which has a wafer-thin 61-59 majority, is set to be voted on by the Knesset on either June 9 or June 14.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli in a Saturday interview with Channel 12 also said the rescheduling of the march seemed like an attempt to reignite the violence, adding that “the whole drama we saw because of provocations in Jerusalem only just calmed down, it would be blatantly irresponsible to allow it again.”

Labor leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a Knesset faction meeting on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“If Netanyahu and Smotrich reignite Jerusalem next week, there will be no more doubt about the motive and goal,” Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz said, referring to the involvement of the leader of the Religious Zionism Party, Bezalel Smotrich, in the planned march.

“We won’t allow them to burn the country on the way out of Balfour,” Horowitz added, referring to the premier’s official residence.

Arab Israeli lawmakers Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List and Meretz’s Issawi Frej both issued letters to the chief of police, demanding the march be canceled.

“This is a provocation that looks like an attempt to reignite violence in our region, perhaps with the hope that it will serve certain political interests,” Frej wrote.

Tibi said the planned march poses a “great danger of violence.”

Former prime minister Ehud Barak said the planned march “appears like a clumsy attempt to reignite violence during a sensitive time,” adding that it was in the hands of Gantz, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman to prevent it.

Meanwhile, far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir said the parade will take place regardless of the warnings it may reignite violence.

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir (front), head of the Jewish extremist Otzma Yehudit party, with Bentzi Goptein, head of the extreme-right Lehava group, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on May 6, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“In face of the anger of the far-left government, we will march in Jerusalem,” Ben Gvir said. “Jerusalem is our capital forever and ever, and we will march everywhere, happily.”

Ben Gvir’s decision to “relocate” his office to East Jerusalem during tensions there last month is seen as having been a central cause of unrest there that later spread to the Temple Mount, leading Hamas to fire rockets at Israel and thus igniting last month’s conflict with Gaza and inter-ethnic violence in Israeli cities.

The eight-party coalition that aims to oust Netanyahu appears increasingly likely to secure the necessary majority support in the Knesset. The assessment among all members of the change bloc, led by PM-designate Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, is that the coalition will indeed be successfully sworn in, according to Friday television reports.

Party leaders in the emerging coalition: This combination of pictures created on June 2, 2021 shows (Top (L to R) Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, (bottom L to R) Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, and Labour leader Merav Michaeli. (Photos by AFP)

The intended coalition brings together eight parties from across the political spectrum: The right-wing Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu, the centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White, the left-wing Labor and Meretz, and the conservative Islamic party Ra’am. Bennett is set to serve as prime minister until mid-2023, with Lapid to succeed him for the subsequent two years.

But the rescheduled march could reignite violence in the capital and beyond, and could challenge the shaky alliance that is trying to oust Netanyahu.

The Hamas terror group on Saturday warned of “consequences” if the march passes through the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City. Muhammad Hamadeh, the terror group’s spokesperson in Jerusalem, called upon Palestinians to arrive at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday, when the march is supposedly set to take place, to “protect it from the malice of Zionism and their schemes.”

The Islamic Jihad group, which was also heavily involved in the Gaza fighting, said a march would be seen as “a hostile action against the Palestinian people and Palestinian land.” It called on Palestinians to gather at Al-Aqsa and confront any attempt to breach the compound.

Israeli police officers seen during clashes with Palestinian protesters at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 18, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Several Hebrew media outlets reported that the organizers have received police permission to hold the event on June 10, with a permit to march to the Western Wall through the Damascus Gate and via the Muslim Quarter. That route has long been deemed as provocative by Israeli and Palestinian critics, given that local Arab shop owners are forced to shutter their stores so law enforcement can secure the Palestinian-majority area for the mainly nationalist Jewish revelers.

But Israel Police did not immediately confirm the route, and the Ynet news site later reported that police had yet to sign off on the final authorization.

A poster for the planned flag parade in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 10, 2021, that claims to have police approval. (Courtesy)

“We will once again be marching through the streets of Jerusalem with our heads held high and Israeli flags raised. We will demand the unification of Jerusalem forever. Come in droves!” organizers said in an announcement posted Thursday on social media.

The announcement was cosigned by several right-wing and religious Zionist groups including the Bnei Akiva youth movement, Im Tirzu, and the Ariel and Etzion Bloc of settlements. It was also signed by the far-right Religious Zionism Party.

The annual march traditionally takes place on Jerusalem Day, when Israel commemorates the reunification of the city after Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Six Day War.

The Old City of Jerusalem, with the Temple Mount, site of the biblical Jewish Temples and now home to the Al-Aqsa-Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine, has traditionally been one of the major flashpoints in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu’s government agreed to reroute the flag march away from Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter hours before the May 10 celebration was slated to begin, buckling to pressure from the US, which worried the original parade route would cause tensions in the city to boil over.

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, during Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (Flash90)

The city was already on edge due to widespread protests and clashes ahead of looming evictions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and a crackdown on violent protests at the Temple Mount compound during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hamas used the violence in the city as a pretext to launch rockets on Jerusalem, sparking 11 days of intense fighting that saw more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israel and the IDF carry out some 1,500  strikes on Gaza. The march was officially suspended when the rockets were fired, but some participants completed it.

Since a ceasefire was declared on May 21, the Egyptian military has led an effort to negotiate a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, including a prisoner exchange. Hamas has warned that events in Jerusalem could see a resumption of hostilities.

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