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Mid-East future is bleak

Barack Obama clinched the photo opportunity he wanted at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York two weeks ago, but in the Middle East a different reality is taking hold as people ask an uncomfortable question: is this the beginning of the third intifada?

On the Israeli and Palestinian sides that question was asked this week as clashes took place around Jerusalem.

Monday morning looked like a war zone. The newspapers were full of conflict, and an Israeli surveillance blimp hovered over the Old City as clashes continued. Israel uses these blimps for major operations. They are a regular feature along the Gaza border, and one was used recently to fly along the route the Pope took in Israel. On Monday, the blimp hovered over East Jerusalem while a police helicopter flew in circles. You could tell where the clashes were by where the helicopter was circling.

By Thursday, the comments of an Israeli official in The Jerusalem Post, talking about the possibility of "several dead Palestinians", brought home the grimness of the situation. The paper quoted the official: "We are closely following the events and understand that many wounded or several dead Palestinians could trigger additional violence in the West Bank."

The two sides have opposite versions of what is happening.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed Israel was "lighting matches in the hopes of igniting a big fire" by allowing the Jews to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque.

But Israel laid the blame for the clashes on figures such as the Islamic Movement's Sheik Raed Salah.

After rumours ran through Arab-dominated East Jerusalem that a "Jewish takeover" of the Temple Mount was in the offing, Salah called on Arabs "to shield the Aqsa Mosque with their bodies". He said he would "pay any price" to defend the mosque, one of Islam's holy sites that is also sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party moved to ban the Islamic Movement, but others argued it was better to have the organisation out in the open, where the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet could watch it.

One of Judaism's leading authorities, Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, this week repeated his view that under Jewish law it was forbidden for Jews to ascend to the Temple Mount.

The second intifada began nine years ago. Israeli civilians were targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers in cafes, buses and shopping centres. I asked the Palestinian who sold me a coffee in the Old City whether we could be witnessing the beginning of a third intifada. "Of course," he said. "They want to take Jewish people to our mosque. This is our fight. Stones are our weapon."

As the tensions escalated, the Israeli police decided to let only Muslims visit the al-Aqsa mosque - and only men older than 50, and women. And as usual in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two sides cannot even agree on language. While Jews insist on calling it the Temple Mount, Muslims only refer to it as al-Aqsa. It was a visit to the site in 2000 by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon that sparked the second intifada. Our landlord remembers watching smoke from the Old City soon after Sharon's visit, and thinking that things were about to turn bad.

The property developer has taken his family to live by the beach for two reasons: "The Arabs and the ultra-orthodox Jews." He feels there are too many of both in Jerusalem. He says that before the second intifada he employed many Palestinians, and when he would visit nearby Bethlehem he would be treated like a king. Someone would kill a goat, and a feast would be prepared in his honour because he had given so many jobs to the Palestinians.

After the second intifada began, he remembers feeling unwelcome in Bethlehem, and felt intimidated as a Jew. As he drove out, he vowed never to return. He has never been back, and now employs few Palestinians. Recently he pointed to the promenade near our place and predicted that one day there would be fighting along it between Jews and Arabs.

This is the sort of gloom taking hold in Jerusalem. As far as I can see, the only optimistic people are foreigners.

One of the only things I can find agreement on between Jews and Palestinians is that the future looks bleak. "Unsolvable" is a word often used.

When you ask about "the peace process", people look as if you're from another planet.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke for many Israelis this week when he said he did not expect any peace agreement to be reached in the next few years and that anyone who did "doesn't understand the situation and is spreading delusions". In Lieberman's world, Jordan's King Abdullah is presumably spreading delusions. He told the newspaper Haaretz this week he had a message for the Israeli public: the status quo could not be maintained, and if the current impasse continued: "We are sliding back into the darkness."

Meanwhile, the Palestinians continued to tear themselves apart in the wake of the Goldstone report into the Gaza war.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is believed to have withdrawn support for taking a resolution endorsing the report to the UN Human Rights Council. His rivals in Hamas accused him of treason, but in a bizarre twist - apparently to try to get himself out of a political bind - Abbas announced an inquiry into who had authorised the decision to withdraw support.

Is there a phantom running the Palestinian Authority? It seemed that whoever spoke this week was a world away from Barack Obama and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

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Rocks were readied before the Jewish holiday,as Arabs knew that Jewish worshippers would arrive. Arabs know the Jewish calendar, it"s the Jewish history they refuse to acknowledge. That would show that Islam does not have the claims that it claims. The title of this article is spot-on, even though John Lyons frequently is not.

Posted by Roberta on 2009-10-12 20:59:32 GMT

Lyons is being disenguous in equating the Israeli to the Arab version of causes for the clashes in Jerusalem. He would have been aware that the mohammedans had stored rocks in the mosques. The rocks were obviously in preparation for a "spontaneous" protest. More importantly, neither Lyons nor any other journo, Jewish or not, seems to have noticed that the defence of al Aqsa was held on Yom Kippur and on Sukkot. This is reminiscent of the Nazi style for actions against Jews on holy days. Lyons also regurgitates the myth that Sharon"s walk on the Temple Mount started Arafat"s terror war. It is well documented that the war had been planned and that it started a day after Sharon"s stroll. (The stupidity of the reason the Arabs give - naughty Jew walking on their side of the play ground - has never been pointed out). And finally, equating Jewish claims to the site with mohammedan ones, is again an exercise in lying and illogic. There is historical, archeological and biblical evidence for the Jewishness of the site. There are only mohammedan claims made by medieval Arabs competing against each to the un-named, unidentified site. The myth holds that after flying through the night on a winged horse, Mohammed tethered it and then went up to heaven to yarn with God and the prophets, Moses, Jesus etc, a sort of back to the future scenario by a mob that rants against the polytheists and the ridiculousness of Christian belief in the devinity of Jesus.

Posted by paul2 on 2009-10-12 03:54:12 GMT