A Visit Here, A Visit There - Why Did One Prompt Violence?
by Jonathan Schanzer
Twenty-two months after the start of what the Palestinians and much of the media have come to call the Al Aksa intifada, history has come full circle, exposing the roots of this violence.
Israeli parliamentarian Michael Kleiner of the Herut Party recently visited the hotly contested religious site in Jerusalem's Old City, revered by Jews as the site where their holy temple once stood and by Muslims as the home of Al Aksa mosque, seen by some as the "third holiest site in Islam" after Mecca and Medina.
Kleiner, who wished to demonstrate that non-Muslims had a right to visit the site when they pleased, is considered a hard-liner relative to other Israeli politicians. He belongs to the small but radical National Jewish Movement, which has the stated goals of preventing a Palestinian state, maintaining all of Jerusalem for Israelis and even reoccupying parts of the disputed territories Israel has already ceded to the Palestinians.
Accordingly, when Kleiner visited the contested site, he was accompanied by religious demonstrators wielding posters imploring Israelis to "Free the Temple Mount."
The next day, The Jerusalem Post reported that Arab passers-by simply watched.
Surprisingly, there was hardly a word about the visit in the Arab press. Just Al-Quds newspaper, an official Palestinian Authority mouthpiece, filed an infinitesimal, four-line report with a headline that read: "The Police Prevents Followers of Kleiner From Entering Al Aksa."
The last line of the report noted that, "in another matter, the police allowed Knesset member Kleiner to approach the western gate without allowing him to enter the Al Aksa courtyard."
In other words, Kleiner's visit elicited a yawn from the Arab world.
Interestingly, nearly two years ago, on Sept. 28, 2000, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon toured the same area with a radically different outcome. A secular nationalist, Sharon's visit held almost no religious significance. There were no zealots, signs or T-shirts, just a sizable entourage for his own personal security.
The Palestinians, however, claimed that Sharon's visit somehow started this current intifada, which has since left more than 1,490 Palestinians and 585 Israelis dead. They claim he "pushed" the Palestinians to violent action, including rock-throwing, Molotov cocktail-launching, sniping at civilians, laying mines and suicide bombings - all of which continue to this day.
After Sharon's visit, the Arab world press was deluged with invective. Speaker of the Palestine Legislative Council Ahmed Qurei said his visit was a "clear expression of the Israeli designs to eliminate the Islamic and Arab features of the Temple Mount." Dozens of others echoed his sentiments.
So, what do these similar visits with dissimilar outcomes say about the ongoing violence? It says that these 22 months of terror are not the result of spontaneous Palestinian anger or defense against Israel "aggressions," as Palestinians would have the world believe.
The disparate outcomes of the visits by Kleiner and Sharon show that this war was a choice, a deliberate Palestinian military decision.
This was verified by Imad Faluji, a member of the P.A. and minister of post and telecommunications, who was quoted as saying that the violence was "planned since [Yasser] Arafat's return from Camp David" when those talks failed in July 2000.
The talks failed when the Palestinians rejected a U.S. brokered peace plan granting their people more than 97 percent of their territorial goals. As it turns out, the Palestinians had other plans.
Earlier that year, in May 2000, Hezbollah, a radical Islamic group funded by Syria and Iran, had just succeeded in forcing the Israelis to withdrawal from Lebanon's south after nearly 20 years of a brutal guerrilla war. In an attempt to emulate their neighbors to the north, the Palestinians opted to reject diplomacy and choose violence. Arafat and company used Sharon's visit as a convenient pretext to launch a guerrilla war.
Kleiner's recent visit is yet another stark reminder that Sharon's visit was merely a pretext for Palestinian aggression. The violence was - and still is - a tactic employed in the hopes of exacting Israeli concessions through murder, rather than diplomacy at the negotiating table.