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Deteriorating Reality in the Shadow of Catastrophic Scenarios

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By Orly Noy, Ir Amim Spokesperson

Recent events in East Jerusalem, especially at the site Jews call Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram el Sharif, have given rise to obsessive betting among Israelis about the likelihood of a third intifada breaking out soon. Such forecasts seem to depend on the observer's political views. While some highlight the potential for violence in the present situation, others are bent on discounting it. But the point lies elsewhere.

In fact, focusing public discussion on the possibility of a coming intifada creates its own perils. It shifts the public's attention away from the inherently dangerous policies being pursued in Jerusalem. It plays into Israel's perception of itself as a victim of real or potential attacks from without and, thus, undermines the country's willingness to confront the fundamental issue of the future of Jerusalem. Moreover, a discussion that focuses on a future intifada without regard to the political context strengthens the sense of many Israelis that the future is predetermined and that Israel bears no responsibility for shaping this future.

Immediate Israeli responses to the recent clashes at the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif showed that when we expect the worst, we can view anything less than the worst as an improvement, even a victory. In their pronouncements, politicians and domestic security functionaries compared the clashes to the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 and saw reason for optimism: they emphasized the absence of an immediate trigger (like the provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the holy site in 2000), the relatively small number of participants and the failure of the clashes to spread to other Palestinian towns. They blamed the events almost entirely on the incendiary rhetoric of Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, the leader of the Islamic movement inside Israel. They failed to notice the reverberations of the clashes elsewhere in the region and the world: the thousands of demonstrators who marched in Istanbul carrying pictures of the El Aktsa mosque and burning Israeli flags; the deterioration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan, whose peace treaty of 1994 recognized Jordan's special relation to the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem; the insertion of warnings about Jerusalem into the discussion of Israel's military actions in Gaza and the Goldston Report.

But the self-delusion goes deeper. Israel's leaders have been telling the world that the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem is nothing but the "realization of the property rights" of Jewish owners; that attempts by Jewish extremists to pray at the Temple Mount (in contravention not only of promises to the Muslim waqf that oversees the site, but of pronouncements by the highest Jewish religious authorities) is simply an expression of the "freedom of worship," and that the archeological digs near Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, financed and overseen by right-wing associations, are guided purely by "archeological standards and values." These assertions are highly misleading. In reality, every new and expanding Jewish settlement in the midst of Palestinian neighborhoods, every archeological tunnel dug under the homes of Palestinian residents in Silwan, every Palestinian home that is destroyed, every Palestinian family that is removed from its home in East Jerusalem - every such action undermines the possibility of a future political settlement in Jerusalem, and thus, the possibility of a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself.

Let's make no mistake. The real catastrophe is not in some future outbreak, whenever it comes. The real catastrophe is being perpetrated every day in Jerusalem. We need no special name for it, it's all around us. We must stop it now.