Jerusalem may be the most sensitive spot in a generally raw Middle East.
The Israelis and Palestinians are sparring dangerously over part of the ancient city, what the Israelis call the Temple Mount and the Palestinians the Noble Sanctuary, which includes the third holiest place in Islam. Jerusalem also encompasses sites that are sacred to Christians.
Jewish extremists, some of whom are in the Israeli political hierarchy, have been pushing to increase access to the Temple Mount, which is up the hill from the sacred Western Wall, further limiting Palestinian and other Muslim access. When Israel seized Jerusalem in the 1967 war it in effect handed jurisdiction over the site to Jordan. Israeli authorities at the time considered the site to be important enough to Muslims, and a sufficiently hot potato, not to go further than simply to surround it within Israeli authority. That measure also means that any trouble over the site puts at risk the delicate relations between Israel and Jordan, which are now being strained by recent developments.
What has happened is that a Palestinian shot an American-Israeli activist, wounding him. Israeli security forces killed the alleged assailant. Palestinians responded by throwing stones. The Israelis reacted with force and eventually closed the site in question for a day, then reopened it. An Israeli politician from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party visited it Sunday with police guards. When the late Ariel Sharon visited the site in 2000, the second intifadah, or popular Palestinian uprising, followed.
The squabbling is potential dynamite. No one, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, needs street fighting ― least of all, a third intifadah ― over access to a site in the city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The continued absence, since April, of meaningful talks toward an eventual, sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem means that a context for easing the strain of such confrontations is also missing, making the situation even more perilous.
This article was published and distributed by MCT Information Services.