How to bring calm back to Jerusalem
The question asked by political leaders and pundits is how to end the current wave of violence in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories.
As in any conflict resolution effort, one needs to look at the root of the problem that started a wave of anger so strong that people were ready to sacrifice their lives to make a point.
In searching for the roots of the problem, one can obviously point to the 47 years of Israeli occupation, but that would not necessarily explain the specificities of the current protests.
However, a close look at the source of the current anger brings one to focus on East Jerusalem, in general, and on the status of Al Haram Al Sharif, in particular.
Jerusalem’s status has been deteriorating since the Oslo Accords, which dealt with many land issues, except for Jerusalem.
The idea of the architects of the Palestinian-Israeli agreement signed at the White House in 1993 was that the five-year transitional period would be long enough to resolve all permanent-status issues. Jerusalem, which was one of these five issues (in addition to borders, refugees, settlements and economic agreements), was privately and publicly declared by many as one of the hardest nuts to crack and therefore left as the lowest priority.
The five-year transitional period has become two decades.
Yitzhak Rabin, a military man who was able to understand the requirements for peace, was assassinated and the peace process faltered, with no indication as to where Jerusalem will be in the long term.
Not only was the status of Jerusalem not resolved, but Israel acted unilaterally to try and seal its future by isolating it from the rest of the occupied territories, banning any connection with the newly established Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and fighting tooth and nail against any effort to create a legitimate local leadership.
The sudden and unexpected death of Faisal Husseini in 2001 and the ensuing bombings at the start of the second Intifada further deteriorated the situation and left Jerusalem isolated and its 350,000 residents political orphans.
Any deal that aims at calming the situation in Jerusalem must therefore begin by addressing the needs of the city and its residents.
To do that, a political mechanism must exist that could take into consideration the city’s uniqueness and, at the same time, guarantee its population the right to choose its leaders and determine its future.
The case of Al Harm Al Sharif is a more specific problem and like Jerusalem, it suffered from lack of attention and attempts at forcing solutions against the will of the people.
The problem with Al Aqsa is one of lack of trust and suspicion.
This suspicion can be easily overcome with one simple act.
Since 2001, the Israeli security forces dismissed the Islamic waqf guards, who are Jordanian employees, from the Maghrebi gate, the closest to the Jewish Western Wall.
By hijacking this single gate, the Israelis became able to unilaterally allow anyone into Al Harm Al Sharif area without coordination with the mosque’s Muslim owners and Hashemite guardians.
For centuries the mosque has been managed and run by Muslims, with a clear system for allowing non-Muslims to visit as tourists.
The Islamic waqf, which manages the mosque, has a tourist office where visitors buy tickets (for a symbolic fee) and can then enter the mosque area as long as they abide by the regulations, which stipulate time of visits, visitor dress code and what is or is not allowed.
One of the issues not allowed if for non-Muslims to pray.
To deal with the mistrust that has been created since 2001, the easiest and fastest route would simply be to allow the Jordanian waqf guards to return to the Maghrebi gate, along with the Israeli police, and Jewish visitors, like any other visitor, would simply follow the same rules as tourists wanting to see the mosque.
Solutions are available to calm the situation, but refusal to abide by these solutions is a clear indication that good will does not prevail and that the Israelis, contrary to their claims that the status quo of Al Haram Al Sharif is being honoured, have sinister plans.
This scepticism of the Israeli intentions has been, more than anything else, the main reason for the current violence, and addressing it will be the fastest way to calm the situation.