...Convincing Palestinians that the Israeli government is not trying to alter the status quo on the Mount has been difficult because many of today’s Palestinian leaders, in the manner of the Palestinian leadership of the 1920s, actively market rumors that the Israeli government is seeking to establish atop the Mount a permanent Jewish presence.
The comments of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas—by general consensus the most moderate leader in the brief history of the Palestinian national movement—have been particularly harsh. Though Abbas has authorized Palestinian security services to work with their Israeli counterparts to combat extremist violence, his rhetoric has inflamed tensions. “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God,” he said last month, as rumors about the Temple Mount swirled. He went on to say that Jews “have no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet.” Taleb Abu Arrar, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, argued publicly that Jews “desecrate” the Temple Mount by their presence. (Fourteen years ago, Yasser Arafat, then the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told me that “Jewish authorities are forging history by saying the Temple stood on the Haram al-Sharif. Their temple was somewhere else.”)
These sorts of comments, combined with the violence of the past two weeks—including the sacking and burning of a Jewish shrine outside Nablus—suggest a tragic continuity between the 1920s and today. For those who believe not only in the necessity, but in the practical possibility, of an equitable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and in particular, for those who believe that the post-1967 settlement project is the root cause of the conflict—recent events have been sobering.
One of the tragedies of the settlement movement is that it obscures what might be the actual root cause of the Middle East conflict: the unwillingness of many Muslim Palestinians to accept the notion that Jews are a people who are indigenous to the land Palestinians believe to be exclusively their own, and that the third-holiest site in Islam is also the holiest site of another religion, one whose adherents reject the notion of Muslim supersessionism. The status quo on the Temple Mount is prudent and must remain in place. It saves lives, lives fundamentalist Jewish radicals would risk in order to advance their millennial dreams. But it is the byproduct of the intolerance of Jerusalem’s Muslim leadership...