Simultaneous Muslim and Jewish religious rites on and around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem passed without clashes this Easter Sunday.
But serious incidents are always to be feared there. Multiple air strikes and rocket attacks in recent days between Israel, Syria and Palestinian organizations in Gaza and Lebanon have raised fears of a Middle East conflagration in connection with these holy places.
At the heart of the conflict, the Temple Mount and the esplanade on which are erected the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock from which Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. The esplanade is held back on one side by the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, the last remnant of the Temple of Solomon destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD.
As thousands of worshipers prayed in front of the wall for Passover, above the wall in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, hundreds of Palestinians prayed for Ramadan.
Under a strong police escort, hundreds of defiant Jews even went to the esplanade of the Mosques, under the boos of the Palestinians who protested against their presence.
In 2000, such a visit by future Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to assert Jewish claims to the holy site led to four years of violence known as the “Second Intifada,” resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries.
The “Abraham Accords” threatened
The current Arab-Israeli clashes come at a time when the Israeli government is going through particularly troubled times. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in court on criminal corruption charges, wants to abolish the independence of the country’s Supreme Court, with the backing of his coalition of far-right religious parties.
If the unrest around Al-Aqsa continues, the exasperation that is gaining Arab public opinion could lead to the breakdown of newly established relations with the Jewish state of three Muslim countries, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, the famous “Accords of Abraham” that Jews, Muslims and Christians consider as a founding prophet.
The dark days that are to be feared will do nothing to increase the possibility of the signing of a peace agreement in the Middle East and the creation of a Palestinian State.
Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967, declaring Jerusalem its capital for eternity. This has never been recognized internationally. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state.
Ignoring international law, under the protection of the American veto, Israel installed more than 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. In 2006, former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter was accused of anti-Semitism for comparing Israeli policy in the occupied territories with that of South Africa during apartheid.
Demography plays against Israel. Everything indicates that, within less than 30 years, Muslims will outnumber Jews between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, which includes Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. This Jewish state with a Muslim majority will be surrounded in 2050 by predominantly hostile or unfriendly Muslim states comprising some 200 million inhabitants.
An impossible viable Palestinian state
The creation of two viable states would involve significant population transfers. And never will the Jewish settlers of the West Bank return to Israel without a terrible civil war. States nested in a tangle of enclaves and a tangle of jurisdictions are impossible to imagine.
Barring a miracle – it is the case to say it – far from easing, the current tensions in the Middle East can only be accentuated in the years to come. We cannot hope to establish a lasting peace there under such conditions.