Jewish Israeli stabbed as tension rises in Jerusalem

Settlement construction, controversy over the Temple Mount, and an antagonistic relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have Jerusalem in danger of more conflict.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Israeli soldiers at the site of a knife attack by Palestinians at the West Bank Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut. The attack left one woman dead and three others injured.

An Israeli man is in stable condition after being stabbed in the back by a suspected Palestinian assailant in East Jerusalem, the latest in a string of incidents in the city that has some fearing a return of an all out Palestinian uprising in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

Tension has been fed by Israeli politicians and religious leaders mulling rebuilding the fabled Jewish Temple on the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque, additional settlement construction being approved in East Jerusalem, and mutual incitement between both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. This month, there have been at least three other knife attacks targeting Jewish Israelis around Jerusalem, and at least two instances of Palestinians deliberately targeting Israelis with vehicles. 

Last Wednesday, a mosque near Ramallah was burned in what Palestinian officials said was an arson attack carried out by Israeli settlers, and that same day a firebomb exploded harmlessly on the steps of an ancient synagogue in Shfaram, a predominantly Arab Israeli town.

AFP reported earlier this week on the sharp change in mood in Jerusalem:

In annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli passengers now get off the train and take the bus in a bid to avoid the hail of stones from Palestinian protesters that is becoming a daily occurrence.

Yoni, on his way to the Hebrew University, barely looks up from his book as he makes his way through the hotspot. "That is what the Palestinians want. They want us to live in fear," he says.

... In a pizzeria on Ben Yehuda street...  Ahd, a young Palestinian student chooses to spend her lunch at the table furthest away from other diners. "You can sense the aggression. That ranges from people looking at you aggressively to searching your bags at shopping malls," she says.

Jerusalem's new daily routine has even seen a return of the so-called "yellow jackets", private security guards who search people's belongings at the entrances to buildings.

Israeli Primer Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the recent rise in violence at the weekly cabinet meeting today. "Abbas must stop the incitement that leads to violence,” Netanyahu said, complaining that the PA's official media had called for a "day of rage" last Friday.

Public finger-pointing between Netanyahu and Abbas really gained steam after the attempted assassination at the end of October of Yehuda Glick, a right-wing activist who wants Jewish prayer to be allowed on the Temple Mount and for the Jewish temple to be rebuilt there. Netanyahu's government responded to that by shutting down access to Al Aqsa for a day, which a spokesman for Mr. Abbas called tantamount to a "declaration of war."

Controversy around the Temple Mount has not been the only problem of late. The Obama Administration's efforts to revive the moribund "peace process" between the Israeli's and Palestinian's have mostly failed, and settlement construction in areas that Palestinians will hope be part of a future state continues. On Wednesday, Netanyahu's government gave permission for the construction of 200 new Jewish homes in a Jerusalem neighborhood Israel captured in the 1967 war. An aide to Abbas told Reuters: ""It looks like during every visit by Kerry to the region, (Israel) threatens to build new settler homes. This is a continuous escalation and contributes to a negative atmosphere." 

That settlement announcement was just before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to arrive in Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah and Netanyahu that was designed to address rising tensions around the Temple Mount. "We are working to smother the sparks of immediate tension so that they don’t become a fire that is absolutely out of control," Mr. Kerry said after the meeting on Thursday. Kerry met separately with Abbas in Amman, given the poor relationship between the Palestinian leader and Netanyahu.

Abbas's failure to deliver a Palestinian state and inability to end settlement construction in the West Bank have dramatically eroded his respect and popularity among Palestinians and even within his own party, Fatah. After almost a decade at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas has little to show for his efforts.

Al-Monitor carried an interview today with what it described as a frustrated member of Fatah's "young guard" from Hebron, and the man said the movement would not stand in the way of another Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

"We are against terror but cannot quell the popular unrest. It is not the preference of our leader [Mahmoud Abbas], but if the popular uprising that has erupted in Jerusalem escalates, then we will take the lead. 

We feel that our choice of strategy, namely peace negotiations, has not been vindicated. The Americans (and specifically US Secretary of State John Kerry) came with good intentions but then became a rubber stamp for Israel's policies. The settlement expansion is not only an expression of Israel's anti-peace policies. On the ground this expansion actually makes the contiguity of a Palestinian state impossible, especially in the Jerusalem area. We must now gain the upper-hand over Hamas in our public opinion — this may come through international diplomatic achievements or through a nonviolent intifada."

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