On Sunday May 29, thousands of Israelis took part in the flag march marking the anniversary of what Israeli nationalists call “the unification of Jerusalem”, marching through Jerusalem’s Bab Al-Amoud neighborhood and dancing in the streets to provoke the Palestinians. They hoisted Israeli flags under the close and heavy protection of the Israeli police.
Israeli estimates put the number of participants in this year’s march at 30,000, a number not seen since the event began in 1974, seven years after Israel occupied the holy city.
The march was preceded by a major storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by 2,000 Israelis who held Talmudic prayers in the courtyard and performed what is known as “complete prostration” where religious Jews lie face down on the ground as part of a Torah. ritual.
This year’s flag march was particularly controversial as it was preceded by Palestinian, Arab and international warnings that the parade route passing through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem could trigger clashes in the Palestinian territories or even a regional confrontation. , since Hezbollah in Lebanon also issued warnings.
The march is linked to the war on Gaza in May last year, which began when armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip fired missiles at Israeli settlements in Jerusalem. A fierce battle took place with Israel, but the Arab intervention led by Qatar and Egypt, which sent a security delegation to the Gaza Strip, succeeded in preventing the repetition of a full-scale war against Gaza because of the march.
Israel decided to go ahead and endorse the parade as planned to show that Jerusalem is Israel’s unified capital and that it has full sovereignty there, as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asserted. Bennett also ordered police and additional battalions of border guards, which have been sent to Jerusalem and Arab towns in Israel, to use force against Palestinians confronting the Flag March and to suppress any marches trying to raise the Palestinian flag. There were clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank that injured dozens of Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) sees the Israeli march as proof that Jerusalem is an occupied city. Israel needed more than 4,000 police to protect the march with force, and there were clashes with Palestinians raising their own flags in Jerusalem and along the march route.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh said that Israel had crossed all red lines with the march, but added that “Israel has not been able to break the will of the Palestinians and impose its sovereignty on them or subjugate. Military occupation is one thing, but imposing sovereignty is another.
The PA, which does not believe in armed struggle, sees popular Palestinian resistance in occupied Jerusalem as the way to break the fait accompli that Israel is trying to impose. Israel is racing against time to impose its sovereignty over Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where it wants to allocate time exclusively for Jewish worship.
Bennett’s government hopes the escalation against the Palestinians will appease right-wing voters in the next round of elections, as it appears the incumbent government is likely to crumble. It is also a personal fight between Bennett and his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, who tries to undermine Bennett by repeatedly speaking about the latter’s collaboration with the leftist and Arab parties of the outgoing government.
Netanyahu has repeatedly called for Bennett’s resignation and the formation of an all-right-wing government. However, Bennett wants to prove that he leads a strong government that can achieve the goals of right-wing parties and forces in Israel.
Wajih Abu Zarifeh, an expert on Israeli affairs, said the confrontation between Bennett and Netanyahu “became a battle to grab votes from extremists in Israel. Bennett understands that by the end of the year at the latest, his government will collapse and new elections will be held. He wants to strengthen his Yamina party.
Abu Zarifeh told Al-Ahram Weekly that “Bennett’s cabinet became a government for the settlers, and that the government’s support for the flag march (which had essentially been an activity for Israeli extremists in the past), slams the door on any possible peace process with the Palestinians.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has a military buildup there, said Israel’s actions are unforgivable. “We cannot guarantee what will happen in the situation with Israel,” Hamas said, citing statements by its Politburo chief Ismail Haniyyeh. The group’s position leaves the door open to several options, after agreeing to mediation efforts not to be drawn into a broad military confrontation with Israel. This ambiguous stance follows criticism that he used inflammatory rhetoric ahead of the flag march.
Hamas threatened to use all options in reaction to the march and, for the first time, explicitly revealed its partnership with several pro-Iranian forces in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. . In a broadcast on Qatar’s Al Jazeera channel, Hamas revealed that there was a war room that included these parties during the previous war on Gaza.
Palestinian observers say Hamas’ response on the ground was inadequate, compared to the swordplay and rhetoric that preceded the march. Meanwhile, Israel was well prepared for extensive military clashes with Gaza if Hamas launched rockets.
Abu Zarifeh believes that Israel was not only prepared for such confrontations, but even tried to provoke them by deploying remotely operated military vehicles on the border with the Gaza Strip so that Palestinian factions would target them and start a war against them. Gaza.
“Bennett has chosen the most radical option to deal with the Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” he said, indicating that the Israeli government is in its final moments and that he is bolstering his popularity ahead of an impending election.
Israel wants to impose a new reality on the ground in Jerusalem and in particular at the Al-Aqsa mosque. The PA decides on its response to Israel’s actions, implementing the resolutions of the Palestinian Central Council regarding the withdrawal of recognition of Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as the end of security coordination with Israel. However, these are steps that could lead to the complete collapse of the PA.
Meanwhile, armed Palestinian factions in Gaza want to strike a balance between events in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, keen not to lose the political gains they made in the latest confrontation with Israel over this issue, namely, by using their influence in Gaza to stop Israeli violations in Jerusalem.
But striking that balance may cost Gaza entering into broad military confrontations with Israel, and further worsen conditions in the region. This would complicate the mission of mediators trying to find a formula that would make all parties winners in front of their popular bases and prevent an escalation to irreversible levels.
*A version of this article appeared in the June 2, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.