Revisiting this summer’s Temple Mount crisis—when a Palestinian terrorist attack prompted new Israeli security measures, which in turn prompted more Palestinian violence—Eran Lerman situates it in the context of the geopolitical and ideological rivalries that divide the Middle East as a whole. The violence was largely incited by Hamas and its Israeli Arab equivalent, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. Both organizations are part of a larger camp consisting of Qatar, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other side are the “moderate” Sunni states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The latter group, which has grown increasingly friendly to Israel, wants to maintain the current situation on the Mount, with Israel and Jordan sharing control over the holy places lest these be seized by the Brotherhood. Lerman explains:
Relinquishing Israel’s sovereignty over the Holy Basin and the Temple Mount would result in Palestinian takeover of all the holy sites. Yasir Arafat, after all, liked to compare himself to Caliph Omar (the [7th-century] Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem), who signed a treaty with the Christians in the city without addressing any Jewish rights. . . . Under these circumstances, if Israel ever relinquished control, Jordan would lose its status and legitimacy. Under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood camp (which, without the help of Israel, the Palestinian Authority would not be able to withstand), the Temple Mount would become a pivotal historic symbol of the victory of radical Islam.
This is a result that most of the Arab world today would view as disastrous. Israel’s sovereignty over a unified Jerusalem, especially in the Holy Basin, is therefore the vital cornerstone for continued viability of the [moderate Sunni] camp and for the prospect of regional stability. This will remain true as along as Israel’s leadership continues to act cautiously, judiciously, and with an informed assessment of internal Arab dynamics. . . .
[The events this summer] indicate that the key elements in the regional political arena are not enthusiastic about investing extraordinary efforts in order to achieve a permanent final-status agreement that would lead to a solution to [the Israel-Palestinian conflict]. But they do have a clear interest . . . in sagacious management by Israel of the situation in the territories and in Jerusalem, without letting intermittent skirmishes deteriorate into high-visibility conflict. [Such a deterioration] would only play into the hands of hostile elements from the radical camps.
Viewed in this light, Israel’s decision to remove the security cameras it installed on the Temple Mount should be seen not as a shameful capitulation to Palestinian demands—as some on the Israeli right have argued—but as a willing compromise in order to maintain good relations with Jordan and its allies, which need to deliver symbolic concessions to their populations.
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