The scenes seem to be a remake of what happened last year on this same esplanade of the Mosques, in Jerusalem. In the middle of Ramadan, the holiest period for Muslims, Jewish extremists are increasing their provocations. Under the protection of armed police, several dozen of them enter the esplanade (where, in Judaism, it is estimated that the Temple Mount stood) to come and pray. Since the capture in 1967, then the annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem – illegal under international law and not recognized by the international community – Jews have been authorized to access it at certain times, but not to pray there. Prayer is normally held at the Wailing Wall below. Since Friday, these provocations have multiplied, causing more than 200 wounded on the Palestinian side. More than 400 people have been arrested, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, an NGO defending detainees.
A Palestinian response sought by Israel?
A year ago, these clashes had gone beyond the simple framework of the al-Aqsa mosque, had spread to East Jerusalem, then to the West Bank, Israel and the Gaza Strip. We are not there yet, but on Tuesday morning, taking the pretext of a rocket very quickly intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the Israeli air force attacked the Palestinian territory bordering Egypt by striking a site designated as belonging to Hamas and used in the manufacture of weapons. This provoked a reaction from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. They responded with surface-to-air missiles. Which was undoubtedly the goal sought by the Israelis. Before the slightest shot, the Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, had already accused Hamas of carrying out a “wild harassment campaign” against Israel.
The reality is that the worsening occupation and colonization, the relentless closure of the Palestinian territories and the violence perpetrated with impunity by the settlers are fueling the anger of the Palestinians. On Tuesday, thousands of settlers were planning to march to the Homesh settlement outpost, north of Nablus, which was dismantled in 2005 but is demanding reconstruction. As for the residents of Hebron, they feared that Israeli attacks could take place throughout the day after those of the previous day had continued throughout the night. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society on Tuesday reported 45 wounded in Burqa, in the northern West Bank, during clashes with the Israeli army.
It is in this context that, in recent weeks, 23 Palestinians have since been killed in Israeli incidents or operations in the West Bank, while 14 Israelis have been killed in attacks. Jordan, which administers the esplanade of the Mosques, blamed Israel for this new escalation of violence on Sunday, King Abdullah II calling on Tel Aviv to “end illegal and provocative measures that lead to further escalation”.
The domestic political situation in Israel is also cause for concern. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, herald of the settlement movement, is playing tightrope walkers to keep his motley coalition in power. “We have no interest in the Temple Mount becoming the center of violence. It would harm both the Muslims there and the Jews at the Western Wall.”, suggested the Israeli Minister of Public Security, Omer Bar-Lev. In early April, the coalition lost its majority with the departure of hard-right MP Idit Silman, while another right-wing MP, Amichai Chikli, threatened to withdraw his support for the government.
For the Prime Minister, the temptation is great to strengthen his majority through tough actions against the Palestinians. It can all the more so as the Islamist formation Raam, which participates in this government, has “suspended” its participation in the coalition because of the renewed tension on the esplanade of the Mosques. A decision without consequence since the Knesset is not in session! A bluff for the leader of Raam, Mansour Abbas, who plays big: he must prove that his choice to join a government led by the right was the right one! We might as well seek to square the circle.
Even if Benyamin Netanyahou, with his Orthodox Jewish and far-right allies, can only count on 53 elected deputies, Naftali Bennett could be tempted to reverse the trend. But, here again, he must not lose his current allies, such as Labor or the Meretz party (Zionist left). At a time when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) remains in crisis and President Mahmoud Abbas a shadow of himself, the confrontation is almost direct between Israel and Hamas. But the latter does not have the elbow room as free as it seems. Under the impetus of its multiple sponsors in the Gulf, the Islamic organization would like to appear as the only recourse in the eyes of the Palestinians. Hence a certain restraint in recent months. The movement’s military capabilities have been affected by the May 2021 war. And, in the event of a new conflict, the Israeli government risks suspending the thousands of work permits granted in recent months to workers in Gaza, a territory under blockade sealed by an unemployment rate of around 50%. Hamas “does not want a new confrontation”, believes Moukhaimer Abou Saada, professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. There remains Islamic Jihad, the main Palestinian armed Islamist group after Hamas, which has threatened a new military escalation. “We can no longer remain silent about what is happening in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank”said its leader, Ziad Al Nakhala.