Brussels as model for solution of Jerusalem conflict

Brussels as model for solution of Jerusalem conflict
The Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, credit: Wikimedia Commons. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem (in Arabic Haram esh-Sharif), with its two mosques and just above the Wailing Wall, a remnant of the Jewish temple in ancient times, is a recurring flashpoint where the situation easily can spiral out of control and escalate to war.

The fragile ceasefire which ended the hostilities a week ago between Israel and the terrorist organisation Islamic Jihad in Gaza still holds despite the provocative flag march which took place in Jerusalem on Thursday.

As previously reported, the latest escalation of violence proved more difficult to extinguish than previous rounds. The rocket fire from Gaza and the Israeli air strikes against Islamic Jihad continued for five days until Egypt managed to achieve a ceasefire. Calm was restored and both sides declared victory but there is nothing in the ceasefire agreement to ensure its sustainability.

In a statement, the EU welcomed the ceasefire and declared that it stands ready to work with all of its partners to bring relief, assist in achieving calm for both Israelis and Palestinians and restore a political horizon. It was a reactive statement and if the EU had any concerns about the flag march, it did not express them publicly ahead of the march.

The annual flag march commemorates Israeli sovereignty over all Jerusalem since the two parts of the city were unilaterally unified by Israel after the six-days war in 1967. In recent years, the march, which passes the Muslim quarter in the old city, has deteriorated into anti-Arab hate speech and served as a pretext for Gaza-based terrorist organisations to launch rocket fire against Israel.

In 2021, the spark that ignited a war was the tension and escalation of violence in East Jerusalem during Ramadan with the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif as the critical flashpoint. Then the flag march of far-right Israelis in the old city of Jerusalem sparked riots in Israeli cities and a 11 days long war between Israel and Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip.

In 2022, during the previous government, war almost erupted again. The route of the flag march was not changed and it was allowed to go ahead in East Jerusalem.  A record number of Israelis, including extremists, were also allowed to enter the Temple Mount, waving Israeli flags and conducting prayers, which disrupted the status quo.

This time, under the new far-right government, it almost happened again despite protests and calls to cancel or re-route the march. The situation was even more dangerous because five members of the Israeli parliament joined a visit to the Temple Mount on Thursday morning which nourished fake news that the Al Aqsa Mosque was under attack.

On Sunday morning, after the flag march had taken place, the Israeli national security minister Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount for the second time since he became minister and issued a provocative statement which aroused condemnations in the Arab world.

“All of the threats from Hamas don’t matter. We are in charge in Jerusalem and in all of the Land of Israel,” he said. “I’m happy to go up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Jewish people.”

Holy ground

In fact, important as the Temple Mount may be as the place of the temple which was destroyed twice in ancient times, Jews are forbidden by religious law to set their foot there out of fear to tread on the ‘holy of holiest’, the part of the temple whose exact location is not known.

A party leader of an ultra-orthodox party in the coalition government even appealed to Prime Minister Netanyahu to prevent the visit referring to both political and security considerations and the sacrilege of going up to the Temple Mount.

“The flag parade was a first test of the ceasefire,” Dr Lior Lehrs, Director of the Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking Program at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim), told The Brussels Times. “There was nothing in the cease agreement about the flag parade but all the actors were thinking about this event in the background of the negotiations.”

Again the flag parade was not re-routed and triggered incitement and clashes along its way as in previous years. But no incidents occurred on the Temple Mount itself and the event could not be used by Hamas or Islamic Jihad as a pretext to launch rocket fire and claim that they were ‘protecting’ the mosque.

Jerusalem remains a final status issue in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians on a permanent and comprehensive solution to the conflict. Professor Yehezkel Dror, the well-known Israeli political scientist and expert on public administration, is a strong proponent of long-term grand strategies to solve conflicts. In this case, he is not sure about the sustainability of a peace agreement.

Brussels as a model

“It’s difficult for the Muslim world to accept the existence of a flourishing Jewish state in their midst,"  he wrote in his latest book (‘Truth from the state of the Jews, heroic success, but entangled in mazes’, 2022). There is hardly any Arab state which is necessarily stable in the long-term. But as regards Jerusalem, he is critical of what he considers to be short-sighted and immoral policies.

“Israel’s rule over the holy places for Islam is unjust. In the long-term, the Muslim world cannot accept a situation where the Jewish state rules over holy Muslim sites that unfortunately also overlap with the most holy site in Judaism.” In a worst-case scenario, some fanatic could even try to blow up the mosque. This would be a real threat to Israel’s existence.

The Temple Mount is managed by an Islamic Foundation (Waqf).  The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan plays a special role as the ‘custodian’ of the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem, a role which was recognized in the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. In practice, they do not play an active role in preventing incidents and are hardly consulted by Israel.

To prevent things from spiraling out of control, Professor Dror recommends real involvement and influence by Muslim bodies in the ‘ownership’ of the Temple Mount without impacting on Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. “Sovereignty is not a zero-sum game,” he writes and refers to Brussels which is both the capital of Brussels and the capital of Europe as the site of the European institutions.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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