A view of Jerusalem's old city with the Dome of the Rock Mosque known to the Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary and to the Jews as the Temple Mount (Gali Tibon/AFP/Getty Images)

Boycott Of Al-Aqsa Mosque Called Off After Removal Of Security Measures

All eyes shift to Palestinian President Abbas, who previously called for a “day of rage” ahead of Friday prayers

The Mufti of Jerusalem on Thursday declared an end to the Muslim boycott of the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa compound, following Israel’s decision to remove metal detectors and other security infrastructure placed at and around the holy site.

“The technical report showed that all obstacles the ‘occupation’ [Israel] put outside Al-Aqsa were removed,” stated Abdel-Azeem Salhab, the head of the Islamic Trust (Waqf) which administers the complex under Jordanian custodianship. “We praise this stand in the past two weeks outside [the mosque] and we want this stand to continue…now inside al-Aqsa.”

The magnometers and frames to hold advanced cameras were installed at the complex in the wake of a July 14 attack there, in which three Muslims opened fire, killing two Arab-Israeli police officers. Mass protests ensued, with Muslim authorities accusing the Israeli government of trying to assert sovereignty over al-Aqsa, and of changing the “status quo” governing relations between the three monotheistic faiths at the mount. Resulting clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces killed five Palestinians, whereas three Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian in their home in the West Bank community of Halamish last Saturday.

In the result, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been widely criticized for his failure to foresee the fierce backlash to, and violent consequences of the implementation of the security measures.

On Thursday, right-wing Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett, a minister in the governing coalition who voted against the security cabinet’s decision to remove the equipment, slammed the reversal as a surrender. “Israel comes out weakened from this crisis,” Bennett affirmed, “instead of sending a message about Israel’s sovereignty on the Temple Mount, it sent a message that Israel’s sovereignty can be questioned.”

Members of the opposition likewise came down hard on Netanyahu, with newly-minted Labor leader Avi Gabbay accusing the premier of harming Israel’s deterrence through haphazard decision-making and irresponsible management.

Similarly, a poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 2 found that 77% of the Israeli public views the government’s backtrack as a capitulation.

Speaking to The Media Line, Dr. Alon Liel, a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, provided a more nuanced analysis. “From an international point of view, removing the [security measures] was wise, as it was the only possible decision to end the tensions—a serious attempt at that—but it is possible that it won’t even achieve this.” From an internal standpoint, he continued, “it could cause Netanyahu quite a lot of political damage, as it is viewed as a submission to the Palestinians, the first one in some time.”

Moreover, Dr. Liel contends that the current crisis marks a departure from the last few years, which, overall, have been quite good to Israel’s leader. “Generally speaking, he had two or three excellent years in the international arena. And since Trump entered office, Netanyahu has had an ideal situation, in which the U.S. is wholeheartedly supporting him; this, while the EU has toned it down and things have been good with respect to Asia and Africa. The last two weeks represent a U-turn for Netanyahu—suddenly he is on the defensive.”

Irrespective of politicking, Netanyahu’s flip-flop will likely be judged primarily based on the outcome it produces, and, in that respect, attention now turns to the Palestinians. While President Mahmoud Abbas likewise issued a statement calling for prayer services to resume at al-Aqsa, he previously green-lighted “a day of rage” to take place on Friday, with leaders of Fatah’s Tanzim so-called “military arm” scheduled to hold mass demonstrations in the West Bank.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, chair of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, revealed to The Media Line that “Abbas [called for the renewed prayer] after consultations with religious leaders who are at the forefront of confronting the Israelis.” As the religious “status quo” has been restored, Dr. Abdullah reinforced the need for “people to go and amass for prayers at al-Aqsa—to thank God that the Palestinians maintained their right to worship, and that there was no further infringement on their legitimate rights.”

In this regard, Dr. Abdullah believes that the “Israeli government has a political agenda to restrict freedom of religion for Palestinian Muslims; which, as an occupying power, is in contravention of international norms and charters.” Therefore, he concluded, “Palestinians fought these measures non-violently, even when facing attacks by Israeli forces.”

Echoing these sentiments, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, Fatah’s Vice Chairman, expressed to The Media Line that “clearly the occupation [Israel] doesn’t recognize the importance of Al-Aqsa to us, and we achieved a victory in the last battle by the efforts of the people of Jerusalem. That showed us that we should never back down on our demands and have a united national position.

“Netanyahu violates the rights of the Palestinians and doesn’t want peace with us; he’s confused now and is getting attacked for creating the situation,” Al-aloul stated, before confirming to The Media Line that Fatah—Abbas’ political party—was no longer calling for a “day of rage,” but rather for Palestinians to show solidarity by praying at al-Aqsa.

Despite the apparent détente, Jerusalem remains a powder keg, and Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers—which typically draw up to ten thousand people to al-Aqsa—have in the past descended into deadly riots. In this respect, Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi warned against testing security forces—”If there are people who try to disturb the peace tomorrow they should not be surprised: There will be casualties.”

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