Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, accusing Israel of stirring up a religious war, appealed to the UN Security Council Friday, March 5 to put a stop to Israeli actions on Temple Mount, Jerusalem. He was referring to a clash earlier than day, in which Israeli riot police stormed the mosques from which Palestinian youths hurled rocks at the Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall shrine below, forcing its hurried evacuation. Some 50 Palestinian rioters and 18 police officers were injured before order was restored.
The Security Council, which is too busy to address the Iranian nuclear threat or the illegal flow of Iranian and Syrian missiles to the Hizballah in violation of its resolutions, was instantly available that Friday to discuss the Abbas' complaint behind closed doors.
The statement issued was typically even-handed: "The members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the current tense situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem."
The American delegation, to its credit, did not agree to the nonbinding statement, which was adopted, according to an unnamed US official, due to "procedural confusion."
The Obama administration understood the Jerusalem riots had been provoked deliberately to destroy the indirect Israel-Palestinian peace track – which has taken more than a year to set up – just before it was due to start rolling.
Three hands stirred the pot: The Iranian-backed Palestinian Hamas, the Tahrir Islamists, who control the technical administration of Temple Mount, and the radical Northern Wing of the Israeli Arab Muslim Movement.
They figured that spiraling Temple Mount violence with many Palestinians injured and some even dead would make it impossible for Abbas to sit down with Israel – even for indirect talks.
Now they are planning to accompany the arrival of American Vice President Joe Biden on March 8 with spreading unrest to common Jewish-Muslim holy sites and flashpoints outside Jerusalem, like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The extremists believe such dramas will force the American visitor to address the crisis and, in any event, make the Obama administration acknowledge that no Middle East accommodation is feasible without co-opting Hamas and the other Palestinian Islamic radicals, including Israel Arab extremists.
Washington hopes to launch the indirect talks in the coming week, if US presidential envoy George Mitchell can swing it. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been lining up their chips in recent weeks for the bargaining ahead.
Last week, the Netanyahu government took steps to strengthen the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Funding was allocated to consolidate Jewish residence in Arab districts of Jerusalem, such as Silwan (City of David) and Sheikh Jarrah, which abut on Israeli suburbs and Jewish shrines.
The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem – both on the West Bank – were added to the list of national heritage sites to preserve the status quo between Jews and Muslims in anticipation of Palestinian demands for their acceptance as Muslim holy places.
Shortly after its capture in the 1967 war, Israel arranged for the Cave to be shared between Jewish and Muslim worshippers, although it was cherished by Jews long before the rise of Islam. Relinquishing it and the historic Jewish presence in the ancient city to exclusive Palestinian Muslim control would not be an option for most Israelis.
Rachel's Tomb has additional contemporary value as a defensive line for Jerusalem's southeastern neighborhoods.
Furthermore, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority discreetly instructed their respective security forces to keep things quiet for now. Abbas ordered his US-trained and funded special units not to allow demonstrations to erupt on the West Bank in the run-up to the talks. And in fact they stepped in to keep the lid on in Hebron, with Israeli forces forming a protective cordon around them.
Israeli police swiftly brought the Temple Mount riots under control Friday.
But debkafile's counter-terror sources estimate that Hamas and other Islamic extremists will to their utmost to generate pandemonium for Biden' visit, possibly even attempting acts of terror. It will then be up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to avoid trading recriminations and join hands to get the talks started. US determination will also be put to the test.