Recent events on the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa mosque, with the growing tension between Israel and the Palestinians, largely reflect the completely different ways the two sides view the reality around the Mount, particularly Israel’s actions there. That disparity stems from different perceptual frameworks.
In the Israeli perceptual framework, Israel is a state that seeks stability and is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount, the freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem, and maintaining public order. However, the status quo is challenged by extremist groups from both sides, and Israel is taking the necessary measures to prevent them from undermining stability, including the use of reasonable force. It is thereby exercising its sovereignty and the responsibility entailed by it.
However, many Palestinians, along with many Israeli Arabs and Muslims worldwide, plus international actors mainly on the left, see the existence of the nation-state of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel as lacking all justification. In their view, Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem is illegal, and Israel as a state—not just the marginal messianic groups within it—seeks to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount.
This is not a worldview unique to radical political Islam, spearheaded by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Palestinian Authority is convinced that this Israeli threat to the Al-Aqsa compound reflects the actual state of affairs, along with Jordan and many other actors in the Arab and Islamic world. Not long ago, Jordan convened a gathering of Arab foreign ministers, including representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Morocco—which, a month earlier, had taken part in the “Negev Summit” in Israel—to discuss Israel’s actions. A look at the resolutions of this conference indicates that all these actors are thoroughly convinced of the justice of their claims—that Israel is curtailing Muslims’ and Christians’ freedom of worship; seeks to apportion the prayer times on the Temple Mount just as in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron; is using force against Palestinian worshippers and youth far beyond what is necessary, including acts of dangerous, unjustified, and violent forced entry to the Al-Aqsa mosque; and is likely to spark a conflagration.
Some of these actors, particularly Hamas, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Qatar and Iran, see the threat of escalation as a means to counteract Israel and also to boost their own political status. Others see it as a way of damaging Israel’s international and regional status while also preventing a slide into a high-intensity violent confrontation that could jeopardize their own uncertain status as well.
Is it possible to contend with years of incitement?
Much has been said lately about the impotence of Israeli public diplomacy in contending with lies aimed at puncturing Israel’s international status and inflaming passions. Indeed, Israel’s public diplomacy is far from adequately fighting back against these lies. The problem, however, is much worse: The perceptual framework by which Israel’s enemies and adversaries internalize reality is a product of long years of indoctrination and incitement based on religious beliefs and core values of Arab and Palestinian nationalism that portray the Jews in general, the Zionists in particular, and the settlers all the more, as the ultimate evil.
For many Palestinians, the claim that Al-Aqsa is in danger is not just an incendiary slogan, but a deep-seated belief. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sometimes explains that it was the Jews’ nature and their spheres of activity that caused their persecution in Europe. As Israel was observing Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), more than 200,000 Palestinian Muslims gathered on the Temple Mount to mark “Laylat al-Qadr” (the night on which the Koran was given to Muhammad), and they proclaimed: “In blood and spirit we will redeem you, O Al-Aqsa!” Some of them added: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return!” (referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s killing of the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar). As Einstein put it, “It is harder to crack prejudice than an atom.”
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett strongly objected to the claim of symmetry regarding terror. There is no symmetry, either, regarding incitement and education for hatred. In contrast to Israel, in the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, education denying Israel’s right to exist and inculcating contempt for Zionists is a fundamental, institutionalized plank, both domestically and in public diplomacy. By leveraging the image of their victimhood, the Palestinians aim to infuse the international discourse with a narrative that denies the existence of the Jewish people and their right to a nation-state—not even on one grain of the soil of the Land of Israel. The Zionist endeavor is portrayed as colonialist activity and Israel as an apartheid state, accompanied by declarations that the Zionists are utterly evil and all disadvantaged groups must unite in the struggle against them. The claim that Hamas is behind this effort is only partially correct; the Palestinian Authority is leading it in the international sphere.
Benefits will not help
As part of this indoctrination, the Palestinians deny the existence of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. They have been able to advance resolutions in UNESCO, the United Nations General Assembly and even the U.N. Security Council that ignore the site’s holiness to Jews and the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. The most important of these is UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the Obama administration promoted toward the end of its tenure. Moreover, the Palestinians make sure to use the name “Beit al-Maqdis al-Mazum”—a temple whose existence they falsely claim—whenever alluding to the Jewish Temple, asserting that despite its efforts, Israel has not managed to find archeological evidence of the Temple’s existence. Several years ago, I spoke with a senior Palestinian official well-versed in Jewish history, and I expressed bafflement about the insistence on denying a historical fact. He told me that he too had personally expressed perplexity on that score to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and was answered with the question, “What pension are you supposed to receive?” After that, he stopped asking hard questions.
Israel regards the Palestinian issue as a nuisance. With no possibility of reaching a permanent solution and seeking to ensure stability in the short term, it has decided to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and pacify the Gaza Strip with material benefits. It prefers to avoid a confrontation with the P.A. and Hamas on the issue of implementing sovereignty in Jerusalem and Arab population concentrations, and likewise around its international image. This approach indeed has certain advantages in the short term. However, it is likely to exact substantial costs in the medium and the long term because it creates a sense of achievement among our enemies, raises their hopes of further achievements in the conflict over who is right and erodes Israeli deterrence.
IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He formerly served as director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.