Palestinians celebrate victory after Israel capitulates, again, on Temple Mount

As in the 2017 metal detector controversy, Jordan and the Palestinian factions have made a significant achievement, taking over the Gate of Mercy after 15 years

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinians worshipers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Palestinians worshipers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The latest flareup at the Temple Mount flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem over the reopening of the Gate of Mercy, a section just off the Al Aqsa Mosque plaza, has been making headlines in the Arab and Palestinian media.

The media attention is focusing on what is being hailed as a knockout victory for the Palestinian and Jordanian side in the battle over the site. A prominent Palestinian analyst, Nasser al-Laham, was quick to adopt the victory narrative and wrote that it was a message to Ramallah and Gaza on how the struggle with Israel should be conducted.

The Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, known in Arabic as Bab al-Rahma, was sealed by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Islamic Waqf, the custodian of the site on behalf of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials believe the work led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

Tensions had escalated in recent days at the contested compound, with protests early last week turning into scuffles with police, and forces arresting 60 Palestinians Thursday overnight suspected of “causing disturbances.”

Tourists look at a view of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount from the lookout of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, on November 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police accused the Waqf of trying to “change the status quo” at the sensitive site by convening in the closed area.

The Temple Mount, the location of the biblical Jewish Temples, and now of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine, has in recent years become an epicenter of friction between Israelis and Palestinians.

Even before the particular question of the Gate of Mercy area was decided, the usual pyromaniacs could already be seen sniffing out the fuel vapor and trying to inflame tensions.

Chief among those is the Hamas terror group, which emphasizes the issue of the Temple Mount in any way possible, in addition to Fatah operatives in East Jerusalem and former Tanzim fighters who had battled many times with Israeli authorities during the Second Intifada (uprising) last decade.

Palestinians worshipers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

On Saturday, MK Ahmad Tibi of the Hadash-Ta’al party visited the location, fully understanding the site’s explosive potential and its significance in these days of election campaigning. It is worth noting that it was Tibi who gave the Second Intifada its Arabic nickname, the Al Aqsa Intifada.

It turns out, however, that those trying the most to escalate the situation with the latest events on the Temple Mount are the Jordanians. Last week, they decided to bolster the central committee of the Waqf. Instead of 11 members, it now has 18. All seven new members are senior Fatah and PA members.

This looks like a Jordanian attempt to signal unity with the PA and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, regarding control over the Temple Mount and Jerusalem, coming ahead of plans by US President Donald Trump’s administration to unveil its peace proposal, the so-called “deal of the century” that Abbas has made plain he intends to reject.

The committee members are among those who prayed last week in the Bab al-Rahma section, despite it being closed for 15 years. That step led Israeli police to seal off the area with a gate, lock and metal chains. After that, Palestinians held daily protests at the site and even broke the lock in one incident.

Palestinian demonstrators break open locked gates at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 18, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Police reacted by blocking the entrances to the Temple Mount, but that decision was quickly reversed following growing Jordanian and Muslim pressure. Police ended up removing the lock and chains, with hundreds of Palestinians immediately entering the Gate of Mercy, cleaning it up and celebrating their great “victory.” Pictures of many worshipers flocking to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound were shared everywhere.

For Fatah and PA members in East Jerusalem, it was another important achievement in their struggle with Israeli authorities, following the battle against metal detectors Israel installed at the entrances to the Temple Mount in July 2017 after two Border Police officers guarding the site were murdered by a Palestinian gunman. That incident ended with an Israeli capitulation to Muslim pressure after less than two weeks.

Likewise, in the current case: After 15 years that Bab al-Rahma was closed, it has now reopened following a display of power by Jordan and the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has quietly given in, again, walking away with its tail between its legs.

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