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Is Netanyahu’s Domestic Politics Behind the Current Israeli Attack on Al Aqsa Mosque & Palestine

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—Is the latest escalation of conflict between Israeli Army and Hamas in Palestinian territory has anything to do with the internal politics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose party-Likud-failed to secure majority of seats in Israeli Knesset or Parliament in elections in March this year. He cannot form a coalition government also because other parties have refused to join an alliance government with the Likud Party. He has been given 28 days by the country’s president to prove majority, failing which his rival party would be given a chance to form the government.

As all political parties have refused to help Netanyahu to form the coalition government, he has begun to create an atmosphere in favour of a direct election of Prime Minister, an idea which he had been floating for quite some time. He thinks that he can succeed to win as PM in a direct election for the topmost administrative job of his country even if his party fails to win majority in Parliament. Netanyahu, who is the longest serving Israeli PM, has also failed to engineer defection in other political parties in exchange for lavish perks so that he could get enough number of MPs to support his candidature for Prime Ministership again. In case, neither Netanyahu nor any other political leader fails to form the government within the time allotted by Israeli president, there has to be fresh election under the existing laws of the country. And Israeli laws allow incumbent Prime Minister to continue on his post even during elections and till the time a new government takes over. So, Netanyahu will function as prime minister even during the next elections.

Netanyahu has been indicted by Israeli police and court on charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud in two different criminal cases registered against him in 2017. Under the Israeli law, Netanyahu now cannot hold any ministerial portfolio other than the post of prime minister. Experts on Israeli politics opine that the current escalation of violence involving Israeli police and military by firing rubber bullets  on Palestinian protesters near Al Aqsa Mosque on Al Quds Day (the last Friday of Ramadan that fell on May 7 this year) and subsequently on May 10 (when the Jewish groups take out procession through the Muslim areas of the Old City of East Jerusalem to mark the Israeli military’s capture of the East Jerusalem during 1967 Arab-Israeli war). Political analysts are of the view that escalation of conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants may polarize more Israeli voters in favour of Netanyahu who can then secure majority of seats required to form the government in next elections. Analysts, therefore, suspect a political hand behind the current conflict between Israeli Army and Palestinian militants led by Hamas.

Retaliation by Hamas

If this is true, it is a very serious matter as politics is being played on the blood of innocent people in Palestine and Israel as more than 65 Palestinians, including several, are reported to have died and over 700 injured in Israeli attacks and bombing using fighter planes, besides huge loss of properties. A few Israelis are also reported to have died in rockets fired by Palestinians on Tel Aviv and several other cities of Israel in retaliatory strikes. But the loss of life and properties in Israel are minimum due to Iron Dome shield used by Israel to intercept short range missiles fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad group from Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip. Yet, some of the missiles that landed in Tel Aviv and other cities of Israel has caused huge damage as shown by some of the TV channels.

Communal riots erupt between Jews and Israeli-Arab Muslims in several Israeli cities

The war between Israel and Palestinian militants also resulted in riots between Jews and Arab-Israeli Muslims in several Israeli cities, with Arab-Israeli Muslims being targetted by extremist Jews as also the local police. One Arab-Israeli Muslim is reported to have been shot dead by Israeli police while trying to deal with communal clashes between Jews and Arab-Israeli Muslims.

Political analysts feel that all these developments may work in favour of Netanyahu in winning the next election but only the time will tell because Netanyahu has emerged as the most unpopular leader after his indictment on charges of bribe, fraud and cheating. A close analysis of Netanyahu’s politics indicates that he has taken leaf out of the book of political parties and leaders in India whose ascendancy to political power is credited to their ability to polarize voters but their political graph in India is also sliding down and their unpopularity is fast declining as exhibited in the latest assembly elections in four states and one union territory as also the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state in terms of population, where the government is headed by a Hindu-temple priest Ajay Mohan Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath.

What is the real cause of tension between Israel and Palestine?

Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest mosque in East Jerusalem or the Old Jerusalem is at the Centre of the constant tension between Israel and Palestinians.

When Palestine was partitioned in 1947 as per United nations Plan to carve out Israel, Jerusalem was declared as an international city because of its religious importance to Islam, Christianity and Jewish religions. But in the first Arab-Israel war in 1948, the Western half of Jerusalem or what is also called New Jerusalem was captured by Israeli forces while the East Jerusalem was held by Jordan.

However, the situation further changed in 1967 Arab-Israeli war when Israel captured East Jerusalem as well from Jordan and annexed it in flagrant violations of all international laws. All international bodies, including United Nations, however, have yet not approved Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.

While the West Jerusalem is like any modern city, the East Jerusalem houses all historical monuments and religious places, including Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest mosque, after Makkah and Madinah. But the Jews hold that the Al-Aqsa mosque is located on Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. According to Jewish history, the Western Wall of the Al Aqsa compound is the Wailing Wall which is sacred to Jews from their religious point of view. So, Al Aqsa is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and has become the bone of contention between the two groups ever since the Israel captured East Jerusalem and Jewish religious leaders have been trying to take it over or at least secure the right to worship there which is being resisted by Palestinians and Arab Muslims inside Israel for the last 70 years.

After capturing East Jerusalem, Israel began its expansion plan in East Jerusalem on lands belonging to Palestinians. So far, it has settled more than two lakh Jews in East Jerusalem by displacing Palestinians. Israel is also discriminating Palestinians in East Jerusalem as Palestinians, who are natives, are given conditional residential permits while Jews born in East Jerusalem are given Israeli citizenship. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are permitted to apply for Israeli citizenship but they don’t go for it because they want an independent Palestine outside Israel.

However, more and more Palestinians are reported to be shifting to East Jerusalem to ensure that Muslim population in the city does not decline owing to increase in number of Jewish settlers because defence of Al Aqsa mosque will not be possible with only few Muslims in East Jerusalem. In the absence of a weak defence, they feel that mosque can be taken over by extremist Jews. The Palestinian as well as Israeli Muslims keep a round the clock vigil to ensure that Jews who, accompanied by armed Israeli police, come for prayers at the Wailing Wall and Mount Temple plaza held sacred by Jews, don’t stay there more than a few minutes. Palestinians suspect that if the Jews are allowed for longer duration, they can capture the mosque.

Legally, no non-Muslim is allowed to pray at the mosque but the Jews have been seeking the right to pray there and have made several proposals to divide prayer timings in the mosque between Muslims and Jews. But the Palestinians have rejected it and hence, keeping vigil on the mosque.

The Israeli police has been entering the mosque and deploying its personnel outside the mosque despite the fact that the King of Jordan happens to be the legal custodian of Al Aqsa mosque even today. Israel, after capturing East Jerusalem, had returned the Al Aqsa mosque to Jordan and allowed the King of Jordan to be its custodian. But there is no Jordanian security deployed either inside or outside the mosque. It is under the Israeli security, not trusted by Palestinians and Arab-Israeli Muslims with regard to safety of the mosque.

What is the cause of the latest conflict between Israel and Palestine?

The cause of the latest tension is said to be eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem on court orders. According to details, when Muslims were driven out of parts of Israel in 1948, some of them were settled in Sheikh Jarrah area by Jordan and the United Nations. But after Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, some Jewish groups claimed that the land in Sheikh Jarrah on which Muslims were settled in 1948 belong to the Jews. They claimed that the houses in Sheikh Jarrah were purchased by Jews in 1885 when they were persecuted in Europe and migrated to Palestine that was under Turkey’s Ottoman Empire at that time. Their claim was upheld by a court in East Jerusalem a few months ago which was challenged in Israeli Supreme court and the case was scheduled to be held on May 10. But the hearing was adjourned due to the violence which broke out due to Israeli armed forces storming into the Al Aqsa mosque on May 7, the last Friday of Ramzan, claiming that Palestinians had gathered into the mosque with stones and weapons. The police took the action to ensure Jerusalem Day march through the Muslim areas of the city planned by extremist Jews on May 10 passes without disturbance. But the unprovoked police action resulted into retaliation by Hamas and other Palestinian groups which now seems to be developing into a full scale war, with Israel using its deadly weapons against unarmed Palestinians. Several Hamas commanders are reported to have been killed in Israeli attacks.

Israel is now also planning to mobilise its ground forces and attack Gaza by using battle tanks and other weapons while the world community watches silently. Political analysts say that these developments might get more votes for Netanyahu whenever the next elections are held and he would secure majority in Knesset and return PM again. Domestic politics, according to political analysts, seems to be another reason for the current violence between Israel and Palestine.

Arabs Issue Weak Statements, Turkey demands action against Israel, European Powers Issue Statements in Support of Israel

While Arab countries issued very weak statements that is not going to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Turkey is the only country in the world that asked international community to take action against unprovoked Israeli attacks on Palestinians and seizing of their territories in violation of all international laws and norms.

However, European powers, who were always at the back of Israel and behind its creation in 1948, have issued statements in support of Israel. Even the United States of America that gives $4 billion annual aid to financially support Israel, has just appealed both sides to de-escalate tension. US indirectly described Hamas retaliation as terrorism. United Nations as usual has also failed to play its role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

German foreign ministry in a statement accused the Palestinians of inciting the current violence. German foreign ministry in a twitter statement said, “Rocket fire on Israeli civilians is not justifiable under any circumstances – and certainly no contribution to resolving the conflict, but a senseless new escalation of violence. All sides have a duty to prevent further civilian casualties.”  So, the statement questions retaliation by helpless Palestinians and is silent on or indirectly justifies Israeli aggression.

Similarly, Czech Foreign Minister Jakob Kulhanek, in a statement, appealed for an immediate halt to the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, forgetting that brutal attack on Palestinian worshippers inside Al Aqsa mosque and eviction plans of Palestinians from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah locality had provoked retaliation by Hamas. The Israeli policy of resettling Jews on Palestinian land amounts to an aparthied policy.

France also blamed Palestinians for the violence, by questioning the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israeli territories. However, it also objected to eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah locality and said that it was illegal under the international law and responsible for escalation of violence. France also appealed for maintaining status quo at Al Aqsa mosque. But France, from its statements,  also justified Israeli aggression on Palestinians.

However, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, is the only European leader who has criticized Israeli assault on Palestinian worshippers inside Al Aqsa and asked Israel to halt the violence immediately.

In a tweet, she said, “Attacking a place of worship at any time is reprehensible, but attacking a mosque during Ramadan is utterly indefensible. It is also a violation of international law. Israel should heed calls to halt the violence immediately.”

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