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After meeting Netanyahu, police chief to present options to enable flag march

PM meets with security chiefs in bid to revive contentious march after police nixed event in its proposed route Thursday through Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter

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)

Police chief Kobi Shabtai will present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with several alternatives in a bid to revive the contentious flag march planned in Jerusalem for Thursday, after police nixed the event‘s original date and path through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

Following a meeting between Netanyahu, ministers and top security officials that ended just after midnight Monday, it was decided that Shabtai would present various alternative proposals to the political leadership for possible authorization, Ynet reported.

Organizers had sought to hold a rescheduled flag march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Thursday, after the original march on May 10 was stopped short by rocket fire from Hamas at Jerusalem, which sparked an 11-day bout of intense fighting.

Police earlier reportedly sought to reroute the planned march away from the areas where it could cause a surfeit of friction between nationalist Jews and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. In an official announcement Monday, Jerusalem police denied that they had called off the parade, but said that the date and route of the march should be approved by law enforcement and relevant political authorities.

“With the current plan and current date, the march is not approved,” the statement read, adding that police would reexamine the march should organizers file for a permit with a new plan or new date.

Nationalist politicians and parade organizers have accused police of giving in to terror by canceling the parade. “Change government” members have charged that the march is deliberately planned to stir unrest and potentially derail the incoming government before it can be voted into office. The Knesset Speaker, Yariv Levin (Likud), has not yet set a date for the Knesset swearing-in vote.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, behind them, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire, Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu called Monday evening’s meeting for 10 p.m. and invited Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Shabtai and Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, hoping to find a route that was more acceptable.

A police source was quoted by Channel 12 news as saying that “no route that passes through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter can be approved. The police won’t be able to recruit sufficient forces to secure such a route, in addition to many more forces that would have to be prepared in other areas where clashes would have been expected.”

The Ynet news site reported earlier that Gantz was demanding that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit be present in the meeting as well, since it was going to touch on legal issues. Animosity is high between Netanyahu and Mandelblit, since the latter decided to indict the premier in three corruption cases, in which a trial is ongoing.

A joint body representing various terror groups based in the Gaza Strip said Monday that “if Israel decides to restore the previous situation, we call for burning the ground under the enemy’s feet.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, on May 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, called the decision to delay the march “an embarrassing capitulation to terror and to Hamas threats.”

“While we are arguing over what kind of government to have, Yahya Sinwar is running things here,” Smotrich tweeted, referring to the head of Hamas in Gaza.

Others also expressed anger.

“It seems the side that ended up deterred after Operation Guardian of the Walls is the State of Israel, which caved to the threats of terrorists and is not allowing a march of Israeli flags through the capital of the State of Israel,” march organizer Yehuda Wald said, according to the Srugim website, referring to the conflict with Gaza-based terrorists in May.

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

The May 10 march, which came amid heightened tensions over planned evictions in an East Jerusalem neighborhood and a police clampdown of rioting on the Temple Mount, had also been rerouted to avoid the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, following pressure from the US, which expressed concern that the parade could cause tensions to boil over.

The annual Jerusalem Day event sees thousands of nationalist Jews march through Muslim-majority parts of Jerusalem toward the Western Wall, in a show of sovereignty to mark the Hebrew anniversary of the city’s east side being captured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967. The route has long been deemed provocative by Israeli and Palestinian critics, since local Arab proprietors are forced to shutter their stores so law enforcement can secure the Palestinian-majority area for the mainly nationalist Jewish revelers.

Israelis stream into Jerusalem’s Old City through the Jaffa Gate during the annual flag march on May 10, 2021. (Sarah Tuttle-Singer/Times of Israel)

Right-wing lawmakers and religious nationalist groups were furious over the decision to reroute the parade last month, and had briefly considered canceling the event altogether.

Last week, organizers announced that the parade had been rescheduled for Thursday and would go through the traditional, controversial route. The outcry was swift, with the Biden administration reportedly sending messages to Jerusalem urging that the march once again be rerouted.

Gantz held consultations over the matter and subsequently issued a statement in favor of moving the event. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi penned a letter to Netanyahu warning of the “international sensitivity” that surrounds Israel’s actions in Jerusalem.

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)

As reports of the planned re-routing spread Sunday night, far-right Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir issued a statement vowing to use his parliamentary immunity to march through the Muslim Quarter with Israeli flags if police refused to allow the event to move forward.

“It is unacceptable for the Israeli government to surrender to Hamas and allow it to dictate the agenda. It is the right of every Jew to march throughout Jerusalem, and that is precisely why I was elected to the Knesset — in order to preserve the right of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel,” he said.

He doubled down on his vow after the announcement on Monday, saying he would still walk through and called on other Knesset members to join him. Likud’s May Golan said she would join.

The extremist La Familia group also said it would join, with a member quoted by the Ynet news site as saying: “We don’t agree with those who won’t allow waving the flag in the holy city. We will wave the Israeli flag, loud and clear.”

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