There’s a new Palestinian intifada in the works, one that specifically targets the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Called the Great Fajr (Muslim pre-dawn prayer), it’s roused thousands of Palestinians to converge on the holy sites for Friday prayers—which also double as anti-Israel rallies. The large turnouts, despite the cold and rain, have surprised police in both Jerusalem and Hebron.
The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports that the prayer demonstrations are being organized by both Hamas and Fatah. Last Friday, a third jihadist organization, called Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), an Islamic State-like pro-Caliphate movement, led Temple Mount worshippers in chants of “O coward settler, Aqsa [Mosque] won’t be humiliated” and “With blood and spirit, we will liberate Al-Aqsa.”
Palestinian leaders claim the protests are aimed at stemming the growing tide of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount and thwarting Israel’s decision to build a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron.
But these are just excuses.
The truth is that the Palestinian national movement is deflated and is looking for a religious kick-start.
None of the lofty promises of the two-state solution have come to pass. Palestinian Authority control over Arab lives has not brought economic prosperity or upward mobility.
The notoriously corrupt P.A. leadership has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid, and P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 15th year of his four-year elected term and an object of scorn on the Arab street, is flying to international locales to decry Palestinian suffering in his private $50 million Learjet.
P.A.-controlled Arabs suffer under Soviet-style police repression and lack the freedoms afforded to their Israeli Arab cousins and those who emigrate to the West.
Moreover, Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are thawing relations with an increasingly prosperous and militarily advanced Israel in the hopes of curtailing the threat posed by Shi’ite Iran. The very same Arab countries which used to be the Palestinian movement’s greatest backers now view it as a hindrance to their regional goals.
Suddenly, the P.A. and even Hamas are facing irrelevance, and thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump’s defunding efforts, also a shortage of cash.
When your own people detest you for unbridled corruption and even your old allies start seeing your enemy as an acceptable partner, it’s time to turn to a tried and true method of riling up the Arab masses—and refocusing the hate away from the Arab leadership.
The classic formula is the narrative that Israel is taking over the Islamic holy places, an unspeakable affront demands every warm-blooded Muslim be ready to fight and die for the sites’ liberation. This is the same formula that ignited the riots of 1929 and 1936, and the Al-Aqsa Intifada of 2000.
In short, the P.A.’s last hope is to foment a religious war for the sanctity of Islamic holy places, one in which they will be able to galvanize a ready cadre of “martyrs” and supporters.
That is what the “Prayer Intifada” is all about.
And what is Israel’s answer to the Prayer Intifada?
There is a stream of thought among Israeli leaders that recommends capitulating to Palestinian demands, limiting Jewish access to the Temple Mount and freezing plans for Jewish building in Hebron, under the theory that if you give the Palestinian Arabs a bit of what they want they will simmer down. “Let’s not allow things to boil over,” say the self-proclaimed pragmatists.
This rationale echoes the famous dictum of Israeli general Moshe Dayan who, when deliberating over maintaining Jewish control over the liberated Temple Mount in the days after the Six-Day War, said: “Who needs this Vatican!” Meaning, let the Muslims indulge in the religious places, while we Israelis control the territory. Dayan placed the hard-won Mount back in Muslim Waqf hands.
Yet today, after years of bloodletting and thousands of victims, including in the Second Intifada, aka the Al-Aqsa Intifada, in which more than 1,000 Israelis were murdered, and the handing over of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, which has waged continuous war against Israel, it’s clear that capitulation to Islamic demands does not calm religious fervor. The opposite: allowing the Islamic Waqf to control the holy sites only buttresses the underlying belief that Israel can, and therefore should, be ousted.
Certainly, the solution is not to capitulate to the Prayer Intifada’s demands, which call for limiting Jewish presence on the Temple Mount (where Jews are already barred from prayer) and stopping natural regrowth in Hebron, from which Jews were ethnically cleansed in 1929. These would only serve to breathe life into the spirit of jihadism.
Instead, and at this ripe moment, Israel can deflate the last vestiges of jihadism. With Trump in the White House, and as the Saudis and Egyptians are in need of Israel, Israel can reverse the misguided Dayan doctrine, assert fuller control over the holy sites and grant yet more access to Jews. Double down and don’t back down. Send a clear message that the Prayer Intifada’s goal of “liberating” the Temple Mount and the Tomb of the Patriarchs will utterly fail.
By undermining this last pillar of Palestinian jihadism and by unambiguously embracing the Jewish heritage of these holy sites, Israel can help the local and regional Arabs come to the conclusion that the P.A. and Hamas are irrelevant, that Israel is here to stay, and that therefore it is better to embrace the Jewish state as a partner for regional stability and prosperity rather than keep fighting a pointless war.
Yishai Fleisher is the international spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron.