Just when Israelis and Jordanians were taking a deep breath at the bullet they both dodged, thinking they’d resolved the al Aqsa crisis, the common Palestinian folk rose up and said: “Not so fast.” The fixers in Amman and Jerusalem thought they’d brokered a deal that gave both sides something. But they left out a key factor necessary to make the deal stick: Palestinians. It’s easy to understand why Israelis would make this mistake: they don’t consider Palestinians worthy of consulting. But how could King Abdullah think he could strike a deal with Israel and exclude a key party on whose behalf he was supposed to be negotiating?
Which brings me to perhaps the main point of this entire mess: virtually every party except the Palestinians has behaved abominably. Everyone has made decisions based on false assumptions and inadequate information. From the very beginning, Netanyahu allowed himself to be led by the nose by his ambitious police minister, Gilad Erdan and police chief, Roni Alsheikh. He struck a typically brutal, harsh note in installing metal detectors and video cameras and presenting them to Muslim worshippers at al Aqsa as a fait accompli.
Once the Muslim street started making its refusal known, it was too late to back down. That’s when the settler murders happened and 10 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces whose aggressive posture only provoked more violence from protesters. That was followed by the Shin Bet killings in Amman and the subsequent sealing off of the embassy. The impasse was broken by high level conversations between Netanyahu and the King, and a secret visit to Amman by Shin Bet chief, Nadav Argaman.
Despite Israel’s denial of a quid pro quo deal, that’s precisely what happened. Israel removed the metal detectors and Jordan permitted the entire Israeli embassy staff to leave the country. For some reason, these wise men thought they’d just earned themselves the Nobel Peace Prize.
& enyone who expressed on Facebook his willingness to “fight for #AlAqsa” might find himself stopped before the gates 4/4
— Asaf Ronel (@AsafRonel) July 24, 2017
But there’s one major weakness in the deal: it permits Israel to change the status quo at the Muslim holy site by installing surveillance cameras which will be used to weed out ‘suspicious’ worshippers. Further, Israeli journalist Assaf Ronel noted that the “smart” surveillance system Israel plans to implement will use data-mining techniques to link each individual Muslim seeking to enter the Noble Sanctuary with every piece of information known about him or her, including all social media texts and any other personal information harvested by Israel’s Unit 8200. That would mean that if a Muslim ever made any statement in defense of the holy site, or wrote anything Israeli secret police deem threatening or hostile, the worshipper would be immediately weeded out of the system and denied access: perhaps permanently. In that sense, Israel has assumed physical control of the Haram al Sharif. That’s something no Muslim can countenance. So the boycotts continue and we have Friday prayers coming with another round of protest and violence expected. The only way to avoid this is for Israel to entirely concede and return to status quo ante.
رئيس الوزراء نتتياهو التقى هذا الصباح سفيرتنا في الأردن عينات شلاين ورجل الأمن زيف وقال: يسرني رؤيتكما. لقد عملتما بشكل جيد وبرباطة جأش pic.twitter.com/hdQ3heGQpH
— بنيامين نتنياهو (@Israelipm_ar) July 25, 2017
Perhaps the most bizarre, off-putting and boneheaded act happened earlier today when Bibi Netanyahu welcomed Israel’s ambassador to Jordan and the Shin Bet killer to his office and gave the latter a big hug along with a beaming smile. So no, that’s what particularly boneheaded. That’s what we expect from Bibi. What’s really bizarre is that he tweeted all this in Arabic on his Arabic Twitter account. What was he thinking? That he’d rub the Jordanians and entire Arab-speaking world’s nose in it, showing how Israel embraces its Arab-killers? If you wanted to provoke a regional religious-ethnic war I couldn’t think of a better way to do it.
As I wrote last night, the Shin Bet offered the Israeli cabinet a satisfactory approach to pre-empt potential security breaches at the holy site by going after guns and gun-dealing in Palestinian villages in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Netanyahu rejected this approach as too soft. He wanted to make a statement for his far-right constituency. Now he’s done so and will have to live with the result.
There are two other important players who acted abominably in the midst of this crisis: the U.S. and the PA. Pres. Trump was entirely AWOL. In such crises, American presidents traditionally send their secretary of state to shuttle between various capitals in order to broker peace. With an entirely dysfunctional Trump administration, Rex Tillerson either didn’t want to go or wasn’t asked. Instead, Trump sent his settler-fixer, Jason Greenblatt to fix things. Greenblatt knows nothing about anything in Israel beyond settlements and other far-right shibboleths. He knows absolutely nothing about the Palestinians and Jordanians. Yet this was the guy sent. It’s as if you sent a plumber to perform brain surgery.
Finally, the ultimate loser here is poor Mahmoud Abbas. Everyone knows the guy is irrelevant. Israel treats him like a stooge-errand boy. Palestinians hate, but tolerate him. The only statement heard from him during the entire week was encouraging Palestinians to boycott the Haram al Sharif: something they needed no encouragement to do anyway. The PA, as I mentioned, was left entirely in the dark by the Jordanians concerning the deal they’d brokered. Even had the PA known about it it’s doubtful it could’ve carried Palestinian opinion in order to bring the Palestinians into line.
I don’t know whether the term comedy of errors or ship of fools is more apt here. Take your pick. I only know that the Middle East is governed by a gang of incompetents and near-competents who don’t deserve their jobs and may bring down the entire house of cards along with them.
H/t to commenter, Danny.