While the wave of terror attacks in Israel and the occupied territories continues, with a new shooting attack on Sunday evening (October 18) at the central bus station in Be’er Sheva, EU has been surprisingly silent. No statement has been issued lately on the situation that might deteriorate if it is not quickly contained.
Last week the Quartet, where EU is an important member, cancelled a visit to Israel, after Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, held phone conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas to discuss the latest escalation of violence.
In a press release on October 11, Mogherini underlined the need to promote calm, encourage restraint and avoid actions which would fuel the tensions even further. “Too many people have died already and too many families have been left bereaved.” She condemned acts of terror against civilians, and stressed that any reaction should be proportionate.
She did not mention the incitement around the Al Agsa mosque at the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem. Palestinians fear that the Israeli government intends to change the status quo at the place which is holy for both Jews and Muslims. The recent wave of violence has been sparked by Palestinian fear and incitement about the Al Aqsa mosque.
The Brussels Times spoke to Yossi Kuperwasser, a former head of the research division at the Israeli military intelligence. He has also been director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs. What could the Quartet, and particularly EU, do to calm down the situation?
“The Quartet should call on the Palestinians to stop the incitement and clarify to them that if this doesn’t happen right away, international funding to the Palestinian Authority will cease,” Kuperwasser says.
He added that there is no Israeli incitement regarding the Temple Mount, while the entire Palestinian leadership and Israeli-Arab extremists are inciting on this and other issues day in day out. “I don’t think we should make any changes of the status quo regarding the Temple Mount.”
Kuperwasser is of the opinion that Israel can put an end to the wave of terror by security measures alone. Any political concessions would be seen as paying a price for terror. “There is no trust and cannot be any trust as long as the Palestinians continue to support terror.”
“Unfortunately managing the conflict is the only option now. We cannot make peace with those who refuse to recognize us as a people, want to make us disappear from Israel and teach their children that the noblest thing is to kill the Jews,” he says.
According to a power-point presentation published last week by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, there is no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. The place is open to Muslims prayers only. Christians and Jews are not allowed to pray there and may only visit there at specific hours.
During the last year 12 000 Jews and 200 000 Christians have visited the Temple Mount/Holy Sanctuary. The figures do not tell if there has been an increase in the visits in recent years. In the past Jews were not allowed to visit the place.
Orthodox Jews still do not visit the Temple Mount because of a Jewish-religious ban to enter the area out of fear to tread on the place where the most holy place of the Temple was located in Biblical times. Those Jews who do it now belong to the national-religious camp and some of them are dreaming about building a new temple, thereby fueling Muslim fear and incitement.
Last November Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan – who is acting as guardian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem – reached an understanding on the status quo on the Temple Mount. However, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (October 20), the agreement was never put into writing, which might have caused misunderstandings about its interpretation.
The Israeli government has recently issued a ban on Jewish politicians to visit the Temple Mount. A total ban on all non-Muslims to visit the place would probably go some way in restoring calm in the country and removing the Palestinian pretext for encouraging a “popular” uprising that easily could escalate to civil war and a quagmire for both sides.
Last weekend Jews and Arabs demonstrated in Jerusalem under the banners of “we don’t surrender to despair” and “we stand together against the terror”. But the people taking to the streets in peaceful demonstrations are too few to influence public opinion.
Netanyahu’s government, with a razor-thin majority and under pressure of its national-religious coalition partner, is not likely to take any confidence-building measures or reshuffling his government. In the meantime the situation risks going from bad to worse.
The Brussels Times