Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 578, 12 January 2023

Israel-Palestine: Itamar Ben Gvir’s controversial visit to al Aqsa
Mohaimeen Khan

In the news
On 5 January, Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour urged the UNSC to take measures against Israel in response to Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the al Aqsa mosque compound on 3 January, after which he tweeted: “The Temple Mount is open to all,” using the Jewish name for the location. Mansour addressed the UNSC: “What red line does Israel need to cross for the Security Council to finally say, enough is enough?” Meanwhile, Israel’s envoy to the UN criticised the UNSC meeting terming it “pathetic” and “absurd.” 
 
On 6 January, the Israeli government approved several retaliatory measures for a Palestinian attempt to have the International Court of Justice issue a ruling on the long-standing occupation. The measures include a moratorium on Palestinian construction in the West Bank and the use of Palestinian funds to compensate the families of Israeli soldiers and settlers attacked by Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said these actions were a “response to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to wage political and legal war against the State of Israel.” The Palestinian Authority's foreign ministry termed these measures a “flagrant violation” of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power and said it was part of the Israeli government’s “racist colonial programme” against Palestinians.
 
On 8 January, Israel revoked the travel permit, allowing Palestinian officials to travel in and out of the West Bank. 

On 9 January, Ben-Gvir ordered the removal of Palestinian flags from public locations and justified his decision by stating that displaying the Palestinian flag was a sign of “terrorism.” The order came after anti-government demonstrations took place in Tel Aviv, where protesters waved the Palestinian flags. 
 
Issues at large
First, the importance of Jerusalem for both. Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the holy compound located in East Jerusalem is a critical site. From 1948 till 1967, Israel was ruling West Jerusalem, and Jordan was ruling East Jerusalem, and the Old City’s important holy sites. In 1967, After a conflict with Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and other Arab states, Israel seized and annexed East Jerusalem. The international community does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over it, and majority of the Old City’s residents are Palestinians. The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, governed by Jordan, is in charge of the al-Aqsa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam. According to a 2014 agreement based on a long-standing understanding and mediated by the then US Secretary of State John Kerry, “Al-Aqsa is for Muslims to pray and for all others to visit.” The Jews refer to it as Temple Mount and it is the holiest site in Judaism. Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site but are not permitted to worship; Palestinians regard Jewish visits as attempts to disrupt the status quo. 
 
Second, the return of the far-right nationalist party. The ruling far-right coalition consists of religious parties, ultra-nationalist and ultra-orthodox parties, with the exception of Netanyahu’s Likud party. A two-state solution is not supported by any of the members of the far-right, nationalist coalition. Ben-Gvir, the head of the Jewish Power Party, sent a message with his visit as a National Security Minister that he intended to support extreme Zionist nationalism and religious Jewish fundamentalism that poses a threat to all prospects for peace.
  
In perspective
First, concerns regarding an uprising. Twenty years ago, the then-Israeli opposition minister visited al-Aqsa mosque which led to the Second Intifada. Ben-Gvir’s call for changing the status quo of the site is a major cause of concern as tensions could escalate. The Israeli government's policies are expected to negatively impact the West Bank and Gaza’s already precarious political, economic, and security situation. 
 
Second, tensions in the region. The visit by Ben-Gvir provoked a wave of anger among the Muslim world, who harshly denounced the visit. The first official visit by Netanyahu to the UAE has been rescheduled for February. Hamas issued a statement warning that this behaviour will lead to a “big clash.” The rivalry is accelerated and potentially destabilises the Middle Eastern region. It may turn into a wider conflict if the Middle Eastern states attempt to get assistance from other state and non-state actors. 

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