Gate of no good options: 8 things to know for March 8
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Gate of no good options: 8 things to know for March 8

Forces are gearing up for the possibility of renewed clashes amid tensions on the Temple Mount, and on the Gaza border, where every Friday is a new tinderbox

Palestinians take part in Friday prayers outside the Golden Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on March 1, 2019. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Palestinians take part in Friday prayers outside the Golden Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on March 1, 2019. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

1. No deal: Several Israeli news outlets report that a high-level delegation was dispatched to Jordan to try and broker an agreement over the Temple Mount’s Gate of Mercy, which is not actually a gate anymore and where it seems neither side is interested in much mercy amid a dispute over the site’s closure.

  • Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor calls it the most serious crisis since the 2017 tussle over the placing of metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount, and predicts it’s a long way to go until the sides can reach an agreement.
  • Nonetheless, the Ynet news website reports that National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, who is leading the Israeli delegation, is rushing to reach an agreement by noontime Friday prayers.
  • According to the reports, the sides are working but have yet to get very close. The heart of the matter: how long renovations can go on there and whether archaeologists can oversee the work. Israel actually doesn’t care much about closing the site, but just wants to flex its muscle, according to Haaretz.
  • “The dispute revolves around Israel wanting the building closed for a short period, in order to demonstrate its sovereignty over the compound. The Waqf and Jordan have rejected this demand,” the paper reports.

2. Tinderboxed: Everybody agrees that things are tense, but the reports paint an unclear picture about what exactly the Waqf is doing to stoke those tensions.

  • Channel 13 writes that the Waqf and other East Jerusalem Palestinian officials are “striving for calm,” and “are not interested in escalation.”
  • But a mass prayer there being called for by everyone Friday has several news organizations comparing it to a tinderbox.
  • “In East Jerusalem they are talking about a popular protest, not violent, but the event has explosive potential,” Channel 12 notes.
  • Ynet writes that the purpose of the protest prayer is “to try and create the same atmosphere as there was during the crisis over the metal detectors and lead in the end to Israel caving and the devices being removed.”
  • A meeting between the Waqf and police officials meant to calm things was canceled at the last minute Thursday, which is probably not a good sign for those wanting to keep calm.
  • According to Haaretz, the Waqf is in a bit of a spot. “Its guardians have been detained and forcibly removed from the complex by the police, while any attempt at dialogue or a short closure is met by extreme elements accusing the Waqf of collaboration and surrender. This week, a meeting between the head of the Waqf and the commander of Jerusalem’s police force was canceled due to threats and pressure by extreme Islamists.”

3. Fuzzy fuzz: The police are also in a bit of a spot, trying to keep a lid on violence while also keeping things calm, and knowing that a show of force may be met with violent pushback.

  • Former NSA Yaakov Amidror tells Army radio that the Temple Mount is the most sensitive site in the Middle East and that “force should be a last resort.”
  • Haaretz reports that there will be no extra police assigned to the area, while others say there will be. The confusion is likely thanks to the police, who seem to be beefing up police levels without saying so.
  • A police official tells Yedioth that it will be at “sensitivity levels,” comparing it to Ramadan: “The numbers are the same but we are ready for anything,” the source says.
  • They better hope so. A Palestinian worshiper tells Channel 13 that “The situation is extremely dangerous. If police don’t make a decision [to allow worshipers into the site], expect problems.”

4. The Hamas trap: Gaza isn’t expected to be a cakewalk either, with regular Friday protests being given some extra oomph by a week of violence that has seen a ceasefire pretty much crumble into low level fighting.

  • Channel 13 reports troops will be stationed along the entire border and using a new type of crowd dispersal method called a “dagger,” without explaining what that means.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the border and issued a pro forma warning to Gazan terror group Hamas while he was down there, but at least in Israel, pundits aren’t exactly taking him seriously.
  • Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea says even Hamas “understands that it was an empty political speech, free of any substance, hollow as his embarrassing video in Ashkelon, in which he promises to take down the Hamas regime.”
  • What Barnea and others understand is that the prime minister has learned to live with Hamas as the lesser of all evils, and there’s not much he can actually do, despite his bluster.
  • Netanyahu is in a trap,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. “Any easing of the situation aimed at preventing a conflagration at this time will be depicted by his rivals as concessions and surrender, whereas slipping into a round of violence that lasts for several days, as happened most recently last November, is liable to leave the Israeli public with a bitter sense that nothing has been accomplished, and could also have a negative influence on the election.”

5. Saved by Zehut: Netanyahu will be heartened to see an election poll on the front page of Israel Hayom, which predicts gains for the right wing.

  • The poll, commissioned together with i24 News, shows both Likud and Blue and White dropping by several seats, to 26 and 33 respectively. But where the right wing makes up ground is with the inclusion of the dark horse Zehut party, which it projects as getting four seats, along with Kulanu and Shas. Out of the picture are Israel Beytenu and former acolyte Orly Levi Abekasis.
  • The survey also finds most Israelis’ decisions on how they will vote unchanged by the decision of the attorney general to charge Netanyahu in three criminal cases. 75 percent say it hasn’t affected them, while only 12% say it has. (13% don’t know somehow, though it’s unclear how it can affect your vote without you knowing.)
  • Even if Netanyahu’s natural partners make up a majority, Sima Kadmon notes in Yedioth that they shouldn’t give him the keys to the office too fast, given that so many parties on the other side of the political spectrum have already vowed not to go in a government with him.
  • “He’ll have a hard time in coalition negotiations, since everyone will know he has no alternative,” she writes.

6. Druze news: Israel has plenty of female candidates, and a few Druze candidates, but has never had a female Druze MK. That’s likely to change with Gadeer Mreeh being placed 25th on the Blue and White List, with most polls predicting the party getting well above that many seats.

  • She tells Reuters it won’t be the first time she’s blazed a trail, having been “the first non-Jewish woman to anchor a Hebrew-language news broadcast.”
  • “Now even the religious leaders understand that Druze women can succeed, that we can represent, in a modest and noble way,” she says.

7. ‘This shouldn’t be so hard’: The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a bill condemning hate, including anti-Semitism, but that doesn’t mean the controversy has been put to rest.

  • The decision by the Democrats to change the focus of the bill from anti-Semitism to all kinds of bigotry “revealed deep divisions within the American Jewish community Thursday, with some groups welcoming the measure while others blasted it as watered down,” notes ToI’s Eric Cortellessa.
  • In a speech described as “impassioned” by the AP, Democrat Ted Deutch blasted lawmakers for being unable to simply pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. “This shouldn’t be so hard,” he said.
  • The New York Times notes that the resolution “was as much a statement of Democrats’ values as their factionalism.”

8. Bashing Omar from the left: That Omar’s critics took issue with her words is well known. But others are chiding her for helping those she actually opposes.

  • In Haaretz, Amir Tibon notes that her comments and the hubbub managed to mute a conversation about Netanyahu’s partnership with a racist party that could have lasted until the AIPAC conference, making it awkward indeed.
  • Instead, he writes, “a savior arrived”: “Omar’s comment … was a gift from the heavens for the pro-Israel lobby.”
  • In Bloomberg, Hussein Ibish writes that her comments, and the brouhaha, do nothing for the Palestinians: “Instead of championing the urgent Palestinian interest in any of those imperatives, Omar’s rhetoric has provoked a pointless debate over the motivations and national loyalty of Americans who support Israel.”
  • “Omar is dividing communities that should be allied on both domestic and foreign policy,” he writes. “Her rhetoric is a disaster that reinforces divisive stereotypes about supposed Muslim hostility to Jews.”
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