JERUSALEM (AP) — Days of violence in Jerusalem and an overnight firefight in Gaza have raised the possibility of Israel and Gaza’s Hamas leaders going to war again, as they did a while ago. less than a year under similar circumstances.
This time, Israel and Hamas are strongly urged to avoid all-out war. But neither wants to be seen as retreating from a holy site in Jerusalem at the heart of the century-old conflict in the Middle East, so further violence cannot be ruled out.
“At this point, it’s a political theater in which everyone plays their part,” said Gideon Rahat, senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a local think tank. “But sometimes the gun that appears in the first scene will fire at the end.”
For Hamas, another war would devastate Gaza, which has barely begun to rebuild after the last one. And Israel would wield a powerful new weapon – the ability to revoke thousands of work permits issued in recent months that provide an economic lifeline to Palestinians in the blocked territory.
For Israel, the war could set back efforts to stave off conflict and damage budding ties with Arab states. The broad-based governing coalition, which lost its majority this month, faces a small but growing risk of having a key Arab partner, which would pave the way for new elections.
All of these factors help explain the relative restraint so far: Israel has intercepted the rocket from Gaza, its airstrikes have caused little damage and no one has been injured. Neither Hamas nor any other group claimed responsibility for the launch.
At the same time, neither Israel nor Hamas can be seen as backing down on a major holy site in East Jerusalem, sacred to Jews and Muslims, where Palestinians and Israeli police clashed over the weekend.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Palestinians see it as the only tiny part of their homeland yet to be taken over by Israel, which seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the Middle East war of 1967.
Hamas’ popularity skyrocketed last year when it was seen as defending the sanctuary – even at devastating cost to Palestinians in Gaza. The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with Israel on security matters, has faced a massive backlash.
“Hamas would like the pressure against Israel to continue from the West Bank, from East Jerusalem, without giving Israel an excuse to launch a major war against Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza,” said political science professor Mkhaimar Abusada. at Al-Gaza University in Gaza. Azhar University.
The peak on which the mosque is built is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it was the location of Jewish temples in ancient times. Under longstanding arrangements, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there. But in recent years, large numbers of nationalist and religious Jews have regularly visited the site and quietly prayed there under the protection of Israeli police.
These visits are seen as a provocation both by the Palestinians and by neighboring Jordan, a close Western ally who acts as guardian of the site. But any effort to limit them would expose the government to harsh criticism from Israel’s dominant right-wing parties, which would portray it as capitulation to the country’s enemies.
Such a decision would be even more difficult now, during the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, which this year coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Israeli authorities say they are determined to ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims, with Bennett blaming the recent violence on a “Hamas-led incitement campaign”.
Israel hopes to prevent a repeat of last year, when weeks of protests and clashes in and around Al-Aqsa helped spark an 11-day war in Gaza.
In recent months, Israel has issued thousands of work permits to Palestinians in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces 15 years ago. It also allows tens of thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to work in construction and other mostly menial jobs in Israel, where wages are much higher.
Israeli leaders present the permits as a measure of goodwill, but they also help Israel maintain its military rule over millions of Palestinians, which is now well into its sixth decade.
Permits can be revoked at any time, and Israel – citing security concerns – bans almost all forms of Palestinian opposition to the occupation.
For Hamas, the suspension or cancellation of the permits would plunge tens of thousands of Gaza residents back into extreme poverty and stop the flow of millions of dollars into the economy.
Abusada says that might deter Hamas, but not if he thinks Israel is crossing a red line at Al-Aqsa. “It’s a limited deterrent that can’t be taken for granted forever,” he said.
Israel faces its own risks.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government has been working to improve relations with neighboring Jordan and Egypt, Arab states that made peace with Israel decades ago but support the Palestinian cause.
Jewish visits to Al-Aqsa have infuriated Jordan, which accuses Israel of violating longstanding agreements at the site and summoned an Israeli diplomat to protest this week. Jordanian Prime Minister Bishr al-Khasawneh went so far as to praise the Palestinians who “threw stones in the face of secular Zionists, protected by the occupation”.
The United Arab Emirates, the first of four Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel through the so-called Abraham Accords in 2020, summoned a newly appointed Israeli ambassador on Tuesday over the Al-Aqsa events.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, calls on all parties to exercise restraint.
In Israel, a small Arab party that made history last year by joining the ruling coalition – giving it a razor-thin majority after four deadlocked elections – suspended its participation on Sunday due to rising protests. tensions.
The move was largely symbolic, as parliament is currently in recess – a rival lawmaker likened it to dieting during the fasting month of Ramadan.
The tensions are unlikely to bring down the government as a majority of lawmakers are expected to vote for a snap election. That would likely require cooperation between the right-wing opposition, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Arab parties that despise him — an even heavier weight in times of war.
“If there is a real conflict, I don’t think in the short term it will threaten the current government,” said Rahat, the Israeli political scientist. “In the long term, everything depends on the framing or interpretation of the outcome of such a conflict.”
Joseph Krauss, Associated Press