Further fuel has been added to the Israel/Palestine inferno this week with the removal of the Israeli ambassador from Sweden after it became the largest Western European nation to accept the existence of the State of Palestine. At the same time, Israeli security forces blockaded one of the most holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem after a suspected Palestinian shooter tried to assassinate well-known American Israeli activist Yehuda Glick. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, the city’s third holiest site, was surrounded by riot squads and Israeli soldiers today in response to the attack. Even though Israel has since caved beneath international pressure and agreed to reopen the area on Friday, the move has already been condemned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called it “a declaration of war.”
It has only been two months since the end of the last Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, but already tensions are soaring to incredible heights as the situation in Israel and Palestine continues to escalate. The decision to block access to holy sites in Jerusalem, however briefly, will most likely make it worse, as similar steps by the Israeli authorities have been met with fierce Palestinian resistance and prolonged periods of violence in the past.
The violence and rioting within the city has been increasing over the last week, most noticeably in the Silwan suburb of east Jerusalem, where dozens of Palestinians have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for occupying Israeli families. Last week a young Palestinian man from the same neighborhood drove his car into a light rail stop in Jerusalem, injuring eight and killing a three-month-old infant.
Israel’s continued insistence on the forcible eviction of Arabs from their Jerusalem homes and their plans to construct another 1,000 housing units in the city’s eastern reaches have sparked resistance on an international level. An emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council was called in response to these plans and even the United States, Israel’s long-term ally and closest supporter, has warned against the expansion.
These developments unfold at the same time as Sweden becomes the largest and most prominent European country, and also the 135th nation in the world, to recognise the State of Palestine and its right to exist. Marked as one of the most positive moves towards a peaceful resolution in recent times, Sweden’s decision, though yet to be repeated by other prominent European powers, perhaps reflects some of the world’s growing impatience with the continued violence within Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
But Israel’s response has been immature at best, with the swift removal of its ambassador from Swedish territory. The decision was described as “miserable” by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who stated that Sweden’s acceptance of the Palestinian State only gave strength to the extremist elements within Palestinian territory.
But Palestinian’s are not the only ones who could be accused of being “extreme.” Israel’s decision to halt Muslim access to holy sites in Jerusalem is certainly an extreme reaction to the attempt on Glick’s life, especially considering that only a day earlier Israeli soldiers shot and injured a Palestinian man on a beach in the Gaza Strip, a direct violation of the ceasefire enacted at the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge. Israel, it seems, is just as guilty of extremism as the Palestinians it is so quick to denounce.
But the controversy does not stop there. In response to Sweden’s acceptance of the Palestinian State, Israeli officials have claimed that the decision has undermined the long and complicated process of peace negotiations. Recognition of the State of Palestine by the United Nations or by individual countries, according to Israel, is damaging the peace process. Of course, the continued colonization of eastern Jerusalem and the forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes is of no concern to Israel, even though officials are apparently worried about how much damage a simple decision to even recognize Palestine might do.
This hypocrisy and the continued actions of Israel in response to international pressure from outside nations and internal pressure from Palestinians within Jerusalem has led many to question if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has any interest in pursuing peace negotiations at all. Despite continued global pressure from Europe, the U.N. and many nations within the Middle East, Israel has continued to colonize east Jerusalem and the West Bank. There are now over 550,000 Jews residing in the two areas, which will only add further difficulties to future peace negotiations as any deal reached will require the area to be partitioned into separate Jewish and Muslim areas.
Perhaps it is the continued support of the U.S. that has allowed Netanyahu to act so brazenly. Israel has long been the henchman of the United States, considered by the White House as the last Western-friendly strong-point, surrounded by a host of increasingly independent Arabic nations. But the relationship is not one-sided and the U.S. has continued to quietly show its support for Israel’s gathering strength. In 2011 U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to veto Palestine’s attempt for full membership at the United Nations, effectively denying Palestine its right to exist. Even Netanyahu, who is still smarting after he was essentially branded a coward by an outspoken White House official, was sure to heap praise upon the U.S. in his latest press release, stating that Israel and the U.S. shared a “deep connection” and “strategic ties.”
And even though the U.S. has publicly protested Israel’s move to continue construction in Jerusalem, this is essentially just a way of appearing concerned in the face of growing international impatience. The U.S. still holds a seat on the U.N. Security Council and has already proven its willingness to veto any council resolution concerning Israel. And while David Pressman, the U.S. Representative for Special Political Affairs, has urged both Israel and Palestine to refrain from any “provocative actions,” his statement simply echoes the same approach that White House officials have employed for decades. In May 1979, Former U.S. President James Carter called upon Israel to exercise “restraint” after 9,000 Jewish settlers were moved into the West Bank. Since then, whenever Israel has forced its way into yet more Palestinian territory, the U.S. has called for it to show “restraint.” Throughout the long process of the Oslo accord, overseen in its final stages by Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the White House made no mention of Israel’s continued colonial expansion, which led to a total of 76,000 settlers by 1990. By the year 2000 there were over 330,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem, all colonized while the U.S. said nothing or simply called on Israel to exercise “restraint.”
So the words of the White House, which seem opposed to Israel’s expansion, are actually as empty as Netanyahu’s supposed interest in peace. Even as Sweden votes to accept the existence of the Palestinian State, displaying some of the world’s growing impatience for continued violence within the Middle East, Israel continues to respond with excessively provocative behaviour both internationally and within Jerusalem. And while this is not unusual, Israel now faces growing opposition from the U.N. and independent countries who are eager for a deal to be reached. With international pressure growing so quickly and the violence within Jerusalem growing with it, the global, political and humanitarian issue that is occurring in Israel, Palestine and the city of Jerusalem is quickly growing into an inferno and threatens to explode yet again, plunging the Middle East into another round of violence and destruction.
Opinion by Mathew Channer