The inevitable next conflagration

The government’s failure to address the root causes of recent violence in Jerusalem guarantees more of the same — or worse

Palestinian Muslims wave a national flag and flash the victory gesture in front of the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City on July 27, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinian Muslims wave a national flag and flash the victory gesture in front of the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City on July 27, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Conventional wisdom posits that the “Temple Mount Crisis” is history and that we Israelis have moved on. But that notion is an illusion and a delusion, and we cannot afford to simply move on. There are vital lessons to be learned from this crisis, and if we don’t learn them, we will be condemned to repeat it (to paraphrase the philosopher George Santayana) — or worse.

Tragically, that appears to be exactly what is happening. Many Israeli leaders, most notably, our prime minister, continue to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the absolutely wrong way. They are managing it – jumping from one crisis to the next, reacting to each, waiting for the next, but doing nothing to address the underlying conditions that precipitate the crises, and so the downward spiral goes on.

This short-sighted approach is making Israel less secure and leading to an eventual reality of one state — a recipe for civil war between its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. As Jewish Israelis committed to the future of Israel as the democratic home of the Jewish people, we fear that our government’s inaction is placing that future in jeopardy.

One key lesson we should learn from the tumultuous events of the past two weeks emanating from the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram-Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), is that the status quo is unsustainable; there may be relative quiet now, but the next round of violent clashes and bloodshed is just one spark away.

Another lesson is how easily the conflict can become one over religion — pitting Muslims against Jews – with the danger that it will metastasize far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian arena. That should concern the Trump administration, because such a development could upend its stated ambition of attaining the “ultimate” deal and its desire to craft a pro-United States alliance in the Middle East that would include Israel, in order to thwart Iran’s designs for hegemony and confront Islamist terrorism.

Reverberations from the tragic events over the last two weeks have been felt throughout the Arab world, where Jerusalem’s Old City is the only unifying issue. They are fraying Israel’s critical ties with Jordan and undercutting Israel’s efforts to forge an alliance with Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s holiest site, Mecca.

Israel must now act swiftly and proactively to remove the underlying conditions that ignited this latest explosion over Jerusalem and will most certainly create the next if our government continues to merely manage the conflict. Otherwise, the last two weeks might well be a prelude to a disastrous conflagration.

As President Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt shuttles between Washington and our region, the US administration should realize it’s in America’s interest to convince Israel to take constructive steps to address the fundamental issues, and to start by reducing tensions over Jerusalem.

Israel’s leadership must assure the world that Israel will defend the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif status quo. It should strive to keep the issue of Jerusalem political rather than religious. It should revisit former Prime Minister Olmert’s 2008 Permanent Status proposal to Palestinian President Abbas, which dealt with the core issues of the conflict and included the following elements pertaining to Jerusalem: home to two capitals; a special regime in the Old City; and shared overseeing of its holy sites by a multinational committee consisting of representatives from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States and Israel.

More broadly and most importantly, Israel’s leadership has to convince the international community that it is serious about a two-state solution, and it can only do that through actions. It should declare that Israel has no long-term sovereignty claims over West Bank areas east of the security fence and in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. It should independently separate from the Palestinians by delineating a provisional border based on the June 4, 1967 lines with territorial swaps to keep the main settlement blocs under Israel’s sovereignty. And it should prepare for the eventual relocation of up to 100,000 settlers to areas west of the security fence from areas that will be designated to become a Palestinian state.

Unless Israel immediately stops its march of folly and proactively takes these kinds of independent actions – which the US should back – Israel will not have security and will not be Jewish and democratic, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be rendered unsolvable (as Jared Kushner reportedly stated on Monday), and the entire region might be engulfed in a bloody war with worldwide repercussions.

We Israelis can and must shape our future. As long as our government does not change, or change its policies dramatically, we will continue counting our losses. It’s in our hands.

Ami Ayalon, a former director of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet, Gilead Sher, former Chief of Staff for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak who heads the Center for Applied Negotiations at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, and Orni Petruschka, a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel, are principals of the Israeli non-partisan organization Blue White Future.

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