As the Obama administration prepares for next Thursday’s important P5+1 meeting with Iran, the prospects for mounting a successful sanctions campaign against Iran are being seriously undermined by the actions of the Israeli government and government-backed Jewish extremists in Jerusalem.
Today, Israeli police battled Muslim worshippers in the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary; also known as the Temple Mount) after the worshipers tried to block the entrance into the Haram of a Jewish group of unclear intentions.
The situation of the 250,000 Palestinian residents of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem has deteriorated rapidly in recent months, and has for some time been in imminent hazard of exploding.
The latest clash may be a spark that ignites much wider tensions between Israel and Palestinians who have become increasingly frustrated over the complete lack of progress in Obama’s peace effort. One Hamas spokesman responded to the latest incident in Haram by calling on all Arabs and Muslims to “urgently act to save the holy Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem from repeated Zionist attempts to desecrate and control it.”
But even if today’s crisis is contained, the grave and continuing threats faced by the Jerusalem Palestinians, most of whom are Muslims, anyway threaten to undercut the western nations’ ability to enroll into their anti-Iran effort the many Muslim neighbors of Iran whose cooperation is essential to the success of any stepped-up sanctions.
I was recently given that warning, in just about exactly those words, by a senior diplomat from a strongly pro-US Arab nation.
“It is Iran’s neighbors who will have to implement most of the sanctions,” this envoy said. “We can’t do this if we are still arguing about Jerusalem.”
… Yesterday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani stated quite clearly he “did not think” sanctions would work. He was also adamant that, “”Iraq will never permit any country to use Iraqi land or sky in any war and any aggression.” (HT: Paul Woodward.)
Iraq has a very lengthy land border with Iran.
And it’s not just Arab countries. Yesterday, too, prime minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, another Muslim country that shares a land border with Iran, urged caution about stepping up the sanctions on Iran. He said that sanctions “won’t bring about anything good for the people (of Iran). So I think we have to be careful.”
Turkey is currently a member if the Security Council and is emerging as a powerful actor throughout the whole Middle East.
Now, it is true that neither Talabani nor Erdogan expressly mentioned the situation in Jerusalem as contributing to their wariness regarding the anti-Iran campaign.
But if the western nations and the pro-US governments in the region want to make a convincing case for tightening the screws further on Iran then– as the Arab envoy I talked to said quite clearly– their ability to do so is significantly weakened so long as the Israeli governmental and non-governmental bodies continue their attacks on the Palestinian community and the Palestinian Muslims’ sacred places in Jerusalem… And so long as the US government does nothing to rein in or punish Israel for those actions, which are highly prejudicial to the chances of the two-state peace to which Obama has said he is committed.
Information about the assaults that Jewish-extremist settler groups are making on the fabric and viability of Palestinian life in Jerusalem is readily available.
Haaretz’s Nir Hasson tells us today that the settler group Ateret Cohanim recently announced in a brochure that it has six properties in the Old City to sell to 22 Jewish families, “which would bring the number of Jews living in the Arab quarters of the walled city to 1,000.”
In line with the town-planning models in many Islamic cities, Jerusalem’s walled Old City has for centuries had separate “quarters”– almost literally laid out as four quarters– designated for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Armenians. Immediately after Israel conquer East Jerusalem in 1967, it evicted all non-Jews from the traditional Jewish quarter of the Old City, replacing them with Jews.
Now, as Hasson makes clear, the next step for the settler extremists– in the Old City as in the newer (though often centuries-old) neighborhoods around it– has been to implant settlers into the heart of very long-established Palestinian Christian and Muslim neighborhoods.
The Israeli organization Ir Amim (“City of the Peoples”) has a lot of information about the situation of East Jerusalem on its website, and on the blog its supporters contribute to Huffington Post.
In one recent post there, Yizhar Be’er noted that the rightwing Jewish group Elad has been undertaking extremely incendiary excavations– under the guise of “archeology”– in extremely sensitive parts of the city including Silwan and the Old City:
- In several places, digs are being run just dozens of meters from the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Handing over the administrative keys to one of the most sensitive and volatile sites in the entire country, and possibly the world, to a political, extremist organization [like Elad] is akin to deciding to hand over the keys of the nuclear base in Dimona to Ahmedinejad and friends.
… Thousands of Jews identify with the movement to rebuild the Temple. They gather around Succoth in the national convention center and swear to “remove the abomination” (i.e. the holiest Muslim site in Jerusalem and one of the holiest sites of all of Islam) from the premises.
I see that yesterday, Hillary Clinton urged Arab states to “provide political backing for the Palestinians to begin peace talks with Israel even if a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not in place.”
She held a meeting in New York yesterday with high-level representatives from the six GCC countries, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.
Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman told reporters afterwards, “We don’t want to have the perfect be the enemy of the good… We’re not going to wait for the perfect package before we start negotiations.”
Nobody’s asking for perfection! But people everywhere who yearn for a decent and viable end to the Israel-Palestine conflict do want to see a modicum of fairness and even-handedness in the positions adopted by the US, which still aspires to the role of lead mediator of this tragic conflict.
Clinton reportedly told Reuters that the meeting with the nine Arab state reps had been “positive and productive.”
Maybe she hadn’t been listening to Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, when he said in his address to the General Assembly,
- Unfortunately, no real results or notable signs of progress have been achieved in spite of the commendable endeavors of the United States of America (and) the evident personal desire of President Barack Obama and his team to further the peace process…
If all of this international concern, all this international consensus and all these international endeavors have so far failed to induce Israel to honor the commitments to which it previously bound itself under the Road Map, how can we be optimistic?
Earth to Clinton and Obama: We need to see action to stop the settler-driven destruction of East Jerusalem… and we need to see it now!