Beware Media Fear-Mongering

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The developments that followed the Temple Mount crisis highlighted the media’s penchant for manufacturing unnecessary drama. If anything, the decision to roll back security measures on the Temple Mount was a sign of Israel’s strength, not its weakness.

A very long time ago, I was assigned responsibility for intelligence on a major regional nation. One day, a serious incident took place in that country. During the following intelligent assessment, I said that state would never be the same as it was before the incident.

Nearly 40 years have passed since then and that country remains the same. There is currently talk of change, but it is led by the same regime, so it is unclear whether changes will materialize.

Later, I witnessed other major events that seemed as if they were going to change the world, but the world remained unfazed. I also recall an Israeli leader who had risen to greatness and thought that because he had stepped onto the stage at an important time in history, the environment around him would change. He, too, was wrong.

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“The Battle over Jerusalem Has Just Begun”

The Palestinian “victory” celebrations that took place after Israel removed metal detectors and surveillance cameras from the entrances to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem bode badly for the future of stability and peace in the Middle East.

To the Palestinians and many Arabs and Muslims, the Israeli move is viewed as a sign of weakness. In their eyes, the removal of the security cameras and metal detectors is capitulation, pure and simple.

How do we know this? Easy: look at the Palestinian response. Rather than acknowledging the conciliatory nature of the Israeli government’s decision, aimed at easing tensions and preventing bloodshed and violence, the Palestinians are demanding more.

As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the controversy over the Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount, which came after three terrorists murdered two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14, is part of a larger battle with Israel.

We have reached a new level in this discourse: Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are now openly admitting that it is not the metal detectors or security cameras that are at issue.

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Incitement, lies and the strange eclipse of the Dome of the Rock

In the wake of the recent violence over Temple Mount, a reader wrote to tell me something I hadn’t realised.

I had wrongly assumed that the al Aqsa mosque as well as the Dome of the Rock were built on top of the actual site of the Jewish Temple. In fact, only the Dome of the Rock is situated on top of where the Temple itself stood. Al Aqsa, which was built later, squats on the southern end of Temple Mount which was extended by Herod.

This raised a question in my mind. As we all know, the Arab and Muslim world incites murderous violence against Israel by claiming (entirely falsely) that al Aqsa is “in danger” from the Israelis. They use the term al Aqsa as a synonym for the whole area of Temple Mount and not just the mosque of that name.

But since the Dome of the Rock is also a mosque; and since it was deliberately built on top of the Jewish Temple in order to bury it both literally and figuratively; and since the Dome of the Rock is a more magnificent edifice and older than al Aqsa, why is it barely mentioned other than in passing? Why is al Aqsa classified as the third holiest Islamic place after Mecca and Medina? Why is it only al Aqsa for which the Arab and Muslim world goes to war against the Jews?

To shed some light on this, I consulted two excellent and authoritative pieces of work: an article in Middle East Quarterly by Daniel Pipes entitled The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem, and a book-length paper by Nadav Shragai for the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs entitled The “Al Aksa is in Danger” Libel: The History of a Lie.

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Recurring Patterns: The Temple Mount Riots

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Major Palestinian riots erupted in response to the placement of metal detectors at the entrance of the Temple Mount, with the Palestinian inciters falsely claiming that the al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger. This form of action might serve as a model for future riots even if Israel signs a peace agreement with the Palestinians. As Israel’s concessions in such an agreement would be irreversible, the threat of easy-to-incite riots makes the prospects for peace even more remote.

On July 14, two Israeli police officers were murdered in Jerusalem. They were members of the Druze community, a religious and ethnic minority. The three Muslim murderers came from the town of Umm al-Fahm in the north of Israel.

They had hidden their weapons on the Temple Mount, where the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is managed by the Waqf, a Muslim religious trust, stands.  The three terrorists were killed by Israeli police.

The day before the killings, one of the perpetrators published a selfie in which he stands before al-Aqsa. The photo is accompanied by the text, “Tomorrow’s smile will be more beautiful, God willing.”

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Palestinians: The Metal Detector Scam

After massive pressure from the Muslim world and international community, Israel removed all metal detectors and surveillance-camera infrastructure from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the location of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Possibly to obfuscate the reason that the metal detectors were installed in the first place — a terrorist attack on July 14, in which three Israeli Arab citizens killed two Israeli Druze police officers with weapons they had hidden inside the mosque — the Palestinian Authority (PA) called on Muslims to boycott the site and launch “days of rage” against the Jewish state.

Palestinians, claiming that the metal detectors were a “desecration” of the mosque — which is actually located on the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam – entered into violent clashes with Israeli security forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Israel and called on Muslims to “protect” Jerusalem.

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The Strategic Answer to the Temple Mount Crisis: Settlement

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Conflict management, when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, is insufficient to achieve Israel’s interests. What is needed is a strategy of renewed settlement that will educate the Palestinians about the costs of their actions, divide their ranks instead of tactically unifying them, and keep it a conflict over land – which can eventually be resolved – rather than over religion, which is probably unsolvable.

Israel’s bureaucratic establishment – the IDF, Shabak, and Mossad, as well as many politicians, opinion makers, and commentators – supports the idea of conflict management in the relationship between Israel, the PA, and Hamas until some future time that might be more auspicious for peace.

They are wrong. As any businessperson knows, maintaining market share means losing ground to the competition. The same is true of politics in our region. Absorbing and containing Palestinian violence is a losing strategy, as the recent events on the Temple Mount prove.

The answer lies in the vision and strategy of settlement.

Why settlement and not some other strategy?

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An open letter to Jared Kushner

Dear Jared Kushner,

I have been reading the remarks you made to a group of congressional interns about the difficulties of finding a solution to the Middle East conflict. Among other things, you said this: “We’re thinking about what the right end-state is, and we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.”

It’s good that you appreciate the complexities of this situation. The failure to understand the dynamics of this problem and the attempt instead to frame it as Westerners frame all conflicts is one of the reasons why this one remains so intractable.

I’m afraid, though, that you nevertheless fall into precisely the same trap. You said you had spoken to “a lot of people” who were involved in previous negotiations, which had taught you that “this is a very emotionally charged situation.”

Well, yes. I think we all kind of knew that already, don’t you?

You said: “You know everyone finds an issue, that ‘You have to understand what they did then’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’” But how does that help us get peace?

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