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CAIRO – 25 July 2017: In light of the latest Israeli escalations at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Old City of Jerusalem, popular calls in Palestine demanded Palestinian unity, ending the internal fragmentation, and prioritizing the issue of Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Earlier this week, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Prime Minister of the Palestinian national consensus government, Ramy Al-Hamdallah, said that it is time to work towards uniting all Palestinian factions. The Palestinian factions in Gaza City also held a meeting on Sunday to reactivate the national reconciliation committee and discuss Palestinian unity according to the Cairo Fatah-Hamas agreement in 2011.
The question is how serious are the Palestinian leadership and factions about achieving the unity and ending the internal fragmentation? How does the Jerusalem crisis differ than any other crisis in Palestine including the military operations on Gaza and the prisoners’ hunger strike?
To better understand the situation, Egypt Today talked to Professor Ayman Al-Raqab, Professor of Political Science at Al-Quds Open University.
ET: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday “now it is time for unity between all Palestinian factions” and he renewed his calls on Hamas to end its control over the Gaza Strip and to allow the Palestinian consensus government to follow its work in the Strip. Do you think that the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian factions are serious about reconciliation?
Al-Raqab: Unfortunately, there is no real intention to achieve the national reconciliation among the Palestinian leadership including President Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian political factions. We hear calls for reconciliation every now and then with no practical application.
At the same time, young Palestinians are united and their priority is the Palestinian cause as we witnessed during the last twelve days. They call for ending the internal fragmentation as a means to confront the Israeli violations and to protect the Palestinian holy sites including Jerusalem.
Regarding Abbas’s statement on Sunday, I believe it was driven by the popular pressure. Palestinians have endlessly requested the Palestinian Authority to dismiss coordination with the Israeli occupation, foremost, the security coordination.
Despite what media claimed on Abbas cutting his visit to China to be present in Palestine during the Palestinian-Israeli crisis over the forced measures by Israel at Al-Aqsa mosque. That is not true, Abbas’s visit officially concluded on the day he returned to Palestine.
Abbas is not sincere about the reconciliation, and his statements on Sunday would further increase the fragmentation as he called the Palestinian National Council to convene in Ramallah. This meeting before achieving the reconciliation would increase the Palestinian division. I fear that this meeting would result in announcing the continuation of contact and relations with Israel after the removal of the metal detector gates.
If Abbas wanted to end the division and wanted the Palestinian unity, he would have visited Gaza the following day after Hamas’ control over the Strip and would have rejected the reality Hamas was trying to enforce on Palestinians. If Yasser Arafat was alive, none of this would have happened and he would never have allowed fragmentation among Palestinians.
Abbas is influenced by some people who do not want the national reconciliation to be achieved. Unfortunately, he only cares about being the president. Abbas participated in the blockade on Gaza by cutting the salaries of more than 18,000 employees from Gaza and it seems that he will continue with these measures. These are not acts by someone who wants national unity.
Abbas should listen to the popular demands and reconcile with Fatah Leader, Mohammed Dahlan, a message that Egypt sent to Abbas during his recent visit to Cairo.
The Palestinian factions in Gaza met on Sunday to activate the national reconciliation committee under the leadership of the Islamic Jihad movement leader “Khader Habib”. At the same time there is a rapprochement between Hamas and Dahlan, both emphasized that they don’t aim to separate the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian territories. They aim to alleviate the suffering in a Gaza that has been living under siege for more than 10 years. The deteriorated situation in the Gaza Strip forced thousands of Palestinian youth in Gaza to immigrate by sea exposing themselves to death.
ET: Do you think that Israel was testing the Palestinian and Arab reaction to intentions on controlling Al-Aqsa Mosque and enforcing the Israeli administration over the Mosque and its compound?
Yes, it is an attempt to test the Palestinian and Arab reaction. This has been preceded by several attempts, for example in 2013 the Israeli occupation announced its desire to turn Al-Aqsa Mosque into a garden. Palestinians and Arabs only condemned this act. This was followed by attempts to “timely” divide Al-Aqsa Mosque which also was met with condemnations only.
This was followed by daily incursions by settlers on Al-Aqsa Mosque after Al-Fajr (Muslim pre-sunrise prayers) prayers where about 30-200 settlers daily attack the Mosque to place the foundation stone of a temple inside the Mosque. These incursions were confronted only by the Palestinian people, while the Palestinian leadership continues the coordination with the Israeli authorities.
Regarding the geographic division of Jerusalem, this is not the first attempt of Israel to speak about installing gates and cameras. In 2015, Jerusalem witnessed clashes and demonstrations rejecting the Israeli discussion of installing gates and metal detectors at the Al-Aqsa gates. The smart surveillance cameras were also introduced several years ago, the proposal was for Israel and Jordan to supervise and monitor these cameras.
Palestinians realize that the occupation seeks to enforce its control over Jerusalem, isolate it and to erase its Muslim-Arab identity. The occupation is seizing the opportunity that the Arab countries are preoccupied by the crises in the region as they deal with terrorists created by Israel and the United States of America represented in the Islamic State (IS). The Arab League after more than 12 days since the start of the crisis in Jerusalem has not yet met.
The occupation realizes the circumstances and that the U.S. is supporting Israel. Even at the United Nations Security Council Meeting on Monday, the U.S. did not use the veto but objected the decision that urged Israel to remove the metal detector gates. I am afraid that the U.S. would relocate its embassy to Jerusalem as Trump mentioned during his election campaign.
: How do you evaluate the Palestinian reaction to the Israeli measures at
Al-Aqsa Mosque since July 14?
Al-Raqqab: On the popular level, Palestine is witnessing the birth of a new Palestinian leadership from Jerusalem and Jerusalemites who reject all half-solutions and accept nothing less than returning to the status-quo existing before July 14.
This is not new to Palestinian youth, at a time the Palestinian factions are absent, Palestinian youth were individually resisting the occupation specifically in Jerusalem that suffers from Israeli violations and attempts to erase its Palestinian-Arab identity and to isolate the city.
ET: Why do Palestinians refuse the Israeli measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque including the installation of metal detectors or smart surveillance cameras?
Al-Raqqab: These measures will jeopardize the safety and security of Palestinian worshippers. The measures will provide the Israeli occupation with data on every Palestinian who enters the mosque and will allow the occupation to determine who enters Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Most importantly, Israel will use these measures to prevent the presence of many Palestinians known as “Murabiteen” who maintain presence in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and compound to confront incursions by settlers.
Furthermore, the smart surveillance cameras will be connected to an Israeli data base of “wanted” Palestinians for the occupation. This will allow the Israeli forces to detain more Palestinians under alleged security concerns.
Palestinians’ journey to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque is already hard including several security checkpoints in the streets leading to the mosques and permits for non-Jerusalem based Palestinians. Installing these measures (metal detectors, cameras and gates) will allow the occupation to complicate the lives of Palestinians even more.
ET: Did the Israeli Authorities remove the installed metal detectors at Al-Aqsa mosque as a result of a Jordan-Israel agreement following the Israeli embassy incident in Jordan on Sunday evening?
Al-Raqqab: The Jordanian press did not present any information related to the meeting between the Jordanians and the United States envoy on Monday following the Israeli incident on Sunday where two Jordanians were killed by an Israeli security guard from the embassy on Sunday night.
However, the Israeli press referred to an agreement between Jordan and Israel mediated by the US. The reported agreement includes the return of all Israeli embassy staff to the embassy and the departure of the involved security guard who killed the Jordanians to Tel-Aviv; which happened on Monday while Israel removes the installed metal detectors from Al-Aqsa Mosque to reduce the tension between the Palestinians and the Israeli forces but without addressing the Israeli suggestion of installing smart cameras to inspect facial features of worshippers.
I do not blame Jordan for any position it takes. Jordan cannot take any more strict position, as it will become a target of the terrorist Islamic State (IS) which is established and supported by Israel and the U.S. to fall under the fire of an Israeli-American industry to blast the Arab region’s stability.