Almost three years ago, then-US President Donald Trump took the illegal and unilateral step of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital. By doing so, he and his top aides said the US had taken Jerusalem off the negotiating table. In the words of Trump: “We don’t have to talk about it anymore.” But the events of the past few days have underlined one clear and indisputable fact: Jerusalem remains at the core of the Palestinian question and, by extension, the Arab-Israeli conflict.
What is happening in East Jerusalem and the Old City is a deliberate attempt by a far-right Israeli political and religious establishment to alter the existing status quo and enforce a new reality. The sinister scheme is two-pronged: One seeks to undermine the long-standing arrangement over the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque as a place that is solely for Muslim worshippers, while the other seeks to initiate the forced eviction of East Jerusalem Palestinian residents. The two schemes are interconnected and both present a clear and present danger to an already shaky situation in the Holy Land.
Since the beginning of Ramadan, the Israeli authorities have sought to provoke and harass the Arab inhabitants of East Jerusalem. Arab residents carry the Israeli ID but are not considered citizens of Israel. The idea has always been to force the Arab population to leave the city through heavy taxation, denying them building permits, home demolitions, and illegal expropriation of land and homes. Approvals for building and expanding Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem have grown by 60 percent since Trump became US president in 2017. Even then, the steadfastness of the city’s Arab population has stood in the way of tilting the demographic balance in favor of Jews.
Added to this situation was the latest crisis of the Sheikh Jarrah Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Jewish colonialist groups resorted to the Israeli courts in a bid to claim legal ownership of lands that are home to more than 300 Palestinians. For decades, the Arab residents have fought in the courts to prove their rightful claim to their homes. This week, the Supreme Court was due to rule on the fate of four Arab families and their properties in Sheikh Jarrah. The determination of the residents and the international backlash against such a direct breach of international law and the Geneva Conventions has delayed the ruling — for now.
Since the beginning of Ramadan, the Israeli authorities have sought to provoke and harass the Arab inhabitants of East Jerusalem.
A decision in favor of the settlers would set a dangerous precedent. It would force the eviction of Palestinians from their homes — a war crime — and open the way for further evictions in other East Jerusalem neighborhoods. Under a racist Israeli law, Jews can claim rights to property in East Jerusalem they allegedly owned prior to 1948, while Arabs do not enjoy the same rights with regard to properties in West Jerusalem or even inside the so-called Green Line.
The reality is that East Jerusalem remains an occupied territory, just like the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the Sheikh Jarrah case, the Jordanian authorities have submitted documents proving Palestinian ownership of their homes since 1956, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule.
The blatant attack by Israeli police and armed Jewish settlers on the civilian residents of Sheikh Jarrah has turned into a PR disaster for Israel. Social media played a pivotal role in exposing Israeli atrocities against unarmed Palestinian residents, leading to unprecedented support among key US lawmakers. Photos and videos of Palestinians in Jerusalem being attacked and arrested by Israeli police have prompted the EU, the UN, the US, the Middle East Quartet and even Arab countries that recently normalized ties with Israel to issue statements denouncing such provocations.
As for Al-Aqsa, not since 1969 had Jewish mobs tried to forcefully enter the mosque under the protection of Israeli forces. What happened on Monday and in the days before, when Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets and threw stun grenades and tear gas canisters at peaceful worshippers inside the mosque, shocked the world.
Throughout Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long rule, Israel has tried to alter the status quo at Al-Aqsa. Under the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace agreement, Amman was granted a special custodianship role through Al-Waqf. But extremist Jews want access to the compound, which they call Temple Mount, and radicals openly call for the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jordan has repulsed such moves in the past but it needs international support to prevent Israel from enforcing a new reality that will certainly lead to bloodshed.
The embattled Netanyahu has tried to push for a major onslaught to Judaize East Jerusalem in a bid to appease the settlers, but global public opinion has turned against Israel. However, that is not enough; only one party can step in and stop this dangerous and irresponsible misadventure, and that is the Biden administration. Failing to do so will bring another disaster on the eve of the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba.
Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010