Jon Allen is a former Canadian ambassador to Israel and a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
Nothing justifies the more than 2,000 rockets that have been launched at Israel over the past few days. The attacks by Hamas should be condemned as pure political opportunism. And nothing justifies the Arab-on-Jewish violence in Israel’s mixed cities or attacks by Jewish mobs on Arab-Israelis, the shocking new dimension to this conflict. Not only are these actions terrifying for all, they also feed the belief that there never will be a partner for peace on the Palestinian side – that an independent Palestinian state would be a constant threat to Israel. I disagree with that view, but many Israelis and Jews in the diaspora believe this, and the violence this week further fuels the mistrust and hatred, which are major obstacles to peace going forward.
The causes of the disturbances leading up to and including the rocket attacks are multiple, but they are ultimately centred on the question of Palestinian rights and the lack thereof. The immediate causes originated in Jerusalem. The first was the barricading of the Damascus Gate during Ramadan. This is an area where young Palestinians traditionally gather while waiting for the evening meal and after. It was a provocation, setting off the first demonstrations and acts of real violence on both sides. It brought out radical right-wing Jewish extremists, including MP Itamar Ben Gvir, and resulted in innocent Jews and Arabs being attacked during the protests and police actions that followed.
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The second cause was the pending, now-postponed Supreme Court decision on whether four large Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah – homes they have lived in for decades. Scheduling the court decision and possible evictions during Ramadan was not well thought out. Whatever the legal technicalities, the evictions are perceived correctly by Palestinians as part of a larger effort to surround the Old City with “Jewish only” settlements, thereby cutting off East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
The proposed march to celebrate Jerusalem Day that was intended to finish at the Damascus Gate, but was rerouted at the last minute, also did not help. The simultaneous expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and the celebration of Jerusalem Day, which for the marchers means all of Jerusalem – East and West – are seen as an effort to unilaterally settle one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians: the status of Jerusalem. The Trump peace plan, which effectively recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his encouragement of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem form a backdrop to Palestinian concerns.
By far the most provocative cause was the use of force by the police on the grounds of the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site for both Jews and Muslims, especially during Ramadan. Why did Hamas react when it did and why with such force? Because Hamas wanted to take advantage of the Palestinians’ anger and long-standing frustration to fill a vacuum left by Fatah and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who remained silent. This was playing out shortly after Mr. Abbas had cancelled the Palestinian elections – elections that many predicted Hamas would win.
Hamas (and some say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) also believed that a conflict would disrupt the efforts of the anti-Netanyahu bloc to form a government in Israel. That bloc could have succeeded in forming a government only with the support of one of the Arab-Israeli parties. Hamas prefers a Netanyahu government, just as Mr. Netanyahu prefers to quietly support Hamas: Both want to weaken Fatah, and neither is interested in a two-state solution.
But the violence in Jerusalem that so unfortunately has also spread to the mixed cities of Israel should not have been a surprise to anyone. The occupation is 54 years long. There has been no path toward peace or even a glimmer of hope in that direction for 12 years – since Mr. Netanyahu became Prime Minister.
How long did Israel think Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would put up with military rule and military courts, house demolitions and evictions, settlement expansion and daily settler violence ignored by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and severe restrictions on their movements? How long would the Arab residents of Jerusalem – many of whom have been denied Israeli citizenship – accept their third-class status? Did Israel believe that Palestinian-Israelis in Lod, Acre and Ramla were immune to the treatment of Palestinians in the territories or the provocations at Al-Aqsa? For how long do Israelis think this situation is sustainable? If nothing is done to fix this larger problem, we will back here in a few years having a very similar conversation.
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