One can understand why the Israeli government would be concerned, but should they be? Axios reports that a phone call between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat over riots and violence surrounding Jerusalem Day got contentious. Sullivan told Ben Shabbat to back off, and Ben Shabbat told Sullivan to mind his own business … diplomatically speaking, of course:
The language used in the White House summary was quite mild and moderate, but the Israelis responded with their own version of the call that gave an impression the conversation was much more difficult.
Israeli officials said Ben Shabbat told Sullivan during the phone call that Israel believes the Biden administration and the rest of the international community should stay out of the crisis in Jerusalem and avoid pressing Israel.
Ben Shabbat told Sullivan that “international intervention is a reward to the Palestinian rioters and those who back them who were seeking international pressure on Israel,” according to an Israeli official briefed on the call,
According to the Israelis, Ben Shabbat suggested that Sullivan might do better to make his plea to the Palestinians:
The Israeli official said Ben Shabbat told Sullivan that Israel is handling events in Jerusalem “from a position of sovereignty and responsibility regardless of Palestinian provocations.”
The Israeli national security adviser told his U.S. counterpart that if the U.S. and the international community want to help in restoring calm, they should put pressure on the inciting elements on the Palestinian side, the Israeli official said.
So far no one has died in the latest conflict in East Jerusalem, although that may not last long. Over 300 people have been injured, with much of the unrest taking place at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. It began with celebrations of Jerusalem’s liberation but got stoked over efforts to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem:
The Monday morning confrontations at the Temple Mount left more than 300 Palestinians injured, including seven who are hospitalized in serious condition, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Video footage circulated on social media of Israeli police officers brutally beating a detained Palestinian man. …
Israeli police have in recent days strengthened their forces in both Jerusalem and the West Bank in anticipation of Jerusalem Day, Monday’s national holiday that celebrates the 1967 Israeli capture of East Jerusalem and the sacred sites within the Old City walls. The holiday features raucous parades by nationalist Jews through Palestinian neighborhoods.
The clashes come against the backdrop of a land dispute in the nearby, mostly Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where an Israeli settler organization is advancing a petition through the Israeli Supreme Court to evict six Palestinian families from their homes. Since last week, solidarity protests have erupted across the city and quickly degenerated into bloody confrontations with the police.
“This is a battle between tolerance and intolerance, between lawless violence and order,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Elements that want to expropriate our rights periodically force us to stand strong, like Israel’s police officers are doing. I back the officers in this just struggle.”
“The Israeli occupation forces’ brutal storming and assault on worshipers in the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyards is a new challenge to the international community, especially those efforts being made by the [new] United States administration,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israelis blame Palestinians for starting the violence:
According to Israeli police, the clashes began when Palestinian protesters threw stones at a gate that leads down to the Western Wall, where thousands of Jews had gathered to pray. The police then ordered forces to push back the protesters, police said.
“Extremist Palestinians planned well in advance to carry out riots today on the Temple Mount,” Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, along with photos of piles of rocks.
Israeli police released video of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli forces outside the mosque.
In another video, Reuters reported that Israeli police opened up water cannons on “Palestinian youths” to break up protests. The above video looks like a bit more than just a demonstration, however. The action looks like a callback to the intifadas, if not an entirely new intifada, perhaps intended to draw Joe Biden and the new administration back into the conflict to the Palestinian Authority’s benefit. After all, such strategies have worked in the past, especially during Barack Obama’s presidency, and the Palestinians no doubt see Biden as a return to such US responses.
Even so, they may be barking up the wrong tree. What worked in the 1990s and the 2010s is getting old by 2021, and not just in the US. The Saudis made it clear last year that the kingdom — heretofore its best strategic ally — had lost all patience with Palestinian leadership. The rest of the Arab world is cutting deals with Israel for common defense against Iran, with whom the Palestinians and especially Hamas has hitched its star in yet another example of disastrous leadership.
The Biden administration has been wisely distancing itself from the conflict up to now as well. They have been pursuing the Abraham Accord strategy, albeit while trying to eliminate Donald Trump from full credit for it, despite expectations that Biden will cut a deal with Iran. Surprisingly, the White House has sent signals that it will take no specific interest in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a most unusual tack for Biden to take — given his pretensions of foreign-policy expertise. Having the Palestinians gin up another intifada won’t provide much incentive for Biden to change his mind, either; in fact, it will remind Biden (and perhaps his advisors) of the response from previous US attempts to negotiate a two-state solution on the Palestinians’ behalf.
Ben Shabbat’s response was probably not necessary. The Biden administration will want to be seen as sympathetic to Palestinian grievances, but they’re not likely to fall down the rabbit hole again. Not at the moment, anyway.