How Did We Get Here?
It was all looking so positive, like we had turned the corner. The Abraham Accords and normalization with the Gulf were game-changing events. For the first time, Israel was accepted as a complete partner, as equal stakeholders in the fate of the region. Palestinian intransigence was not going to rule the Middle East agenda.
Additionally, there was a mini-Abraham Accords happening internally: In an unprecedented move, most of Israel’s political parties, following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s lead, were inviting Arab parties to be part of the government. It seemed like the dawn of a new era, a show of pragmatism by an Islamic party that decided to focus on improving the lot of its constituency, Haredi-style, rather than function as the mouthpiece of the Palestinian Authority. Despite the political instability and multiple elections, things were looking up.
Jerusalem was also seeing positive changes. For the past five years, the government and municipality allocated a large amount of the budget for closing social gaps between the western and eastern parts of the city, with investments in infrastructure, education and quality employment. Every day we were building the bridges that should have been built years ago, with civil society leaders, with spiritual leaders, and local muktars. We are planning a high-tech park in Wadi Joz as well as hotels and commercial centers in order to improve the lives of east Jerusalemites.
So what happened? How did we get here?
The conventional wisdom, until the rockets started to fall, is that it all started because of Sheikh Jarrah, with the impending expulsion of four Palestinian families in a neighborhood that had once been Jewish and called Shimon Hatzadik. This is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented aspects of this sad story. The expulsion became the focus of much criticism against Israel for essentially a real estate property dispute that was commandeered by the Palestinian leadership for their own sinister aims of painting Israel in a negative light and scoring political points.
True, there is a property dispute involving Jews: A Jewish Sefardi trust can prove ownership of these houses from before the establishment of the State of Israel, while the Palestinian families living there cannot. After the illegal occupation of Jordan into east Jerusalem in 1948, these houses were handed over to whoever wanted to live in them. War is cruel – it kills and displaces people. Those Jewish families were displaced and some members even killed during the war. The families that moved in did so knowing they had no ownership rights – even their lawyers understood that legally they were squatting.
In the 1980s, the land ownership cases were initiated. The Palestinian families were offered a fair compromise: Declare a protected tenancy and you can stay. They originally agreed. Later, as Palestinian Authority lawyers got involved, they influenced the families to reject compromise, knowing the families would lose. The Palestinian Authority knew these families would be expelled but were quite happy to score cheap political points on the backs of these residents. The PA has always been prepared to steamroll the individual for the sake of the “cause.” They care little for the fate of these families. The court decisions have served their political agenda.
The added bonus for the PA is that this crisis is a perfect distraction from the fact the officials have canceled yet another election and are going into the 17th year of a four-year term. For that, too, Jerusalem was blamed. The excuse was that the Israeli government would not allow the Arab residents of the city to vote. As far as any of us know, there was never a formal request put in by the PA to the Israeli government. However, even if it were true that Israel would not allow the postal polling, that would only influence some 6,000 votes, as the main voting majority are free to vote in any of the PA neighborhoods near Jerusalem. That’s 6,000 out of 160,000 votes! This cynical attempt to blame Israel for canceling an election they never wanted was completely transparent even to the Palestinian voters and even more so to Hamas.
Cue in Hamas: Hamas and its perpetual backer Iran have been looking for an excuse for a confrontation for a while now. They have watched helplessly as the Abraham Accords flourished and have seen how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been downgraded to the bottom of everyone’s priority list. They are concerned that, for the first time in history, Israeli Arabs would serve in an Israeli government – never mind that the party currently holding the balance of power in Israel is a light incarnation of their movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. And if that wasn’t enough, Iran is still reeling from an electrical “work accident” in their Natanz nuclear plant that showcased their vulnerability.
So, what is the best way to drive a wedge between Jews and Muslims, between Israel and the Arab world? Start a war, do it on Ramadan when religious fervor is high, and start in Al Quds (Jerusalem), where everyone will support you, and your political organization will be seen as the true defenders of the faith. Throw in an ill-planned police barricade situation in Damascus Gate on Ramadan for crowd-control purposes on the heels of the Meron tragedy a week before, and you have the perfect storm.
First fire a rocket in Jerusalem, and you create the linkage from the get-go, never mind that Jerusalem has a large Muslim population. Once you connect this to Al Aqsa you have a justification – it’s actually kind of a brilliant strategy. The intifada of 2001 was also called the Al Aqsa Intifada – by linking the two, you get popular support and, at the same time, the whole Muslim world is on your side. The images of Israel’s heavy air power of course help tell the narrative of the victimhood that everyone has bought lock, stock and barrel since 1967. Here we go again. Needless deaths for a Hamas political campaign against Fatah and Iran’s proxy war with the West.
I have spent a week explaining to the world what is really happening, who is really behind these escalations that are taking innocent lives on both sides every day. I pray for peace but most of all for better leaders for the Palestinian people that may someday present the truth to them; that Israel is not going anywhere, and the only way forward is peace.