The current situation in Israel is a good opportunity to appreciate how complex is the Israeli-Palestinian complex. Let us start with the bare facts: An Israeli court supported the eviction of Palestinian families from the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, just a few days after Mahmoud Abbas announced the indefinite postponement of Palestinian elections. Unrest in Jerusalem during Ramadan is a common occurrence, and this year it has not been different. Hamas started shooting rockets at Israeli communities in the south after the Court announced the support for the evictions. Israel retaliated against Hamas, which resulted in a increase of rocket launching against Israel. In response to the violence, the International community is calling for restraint, which translates into asking Israel to halt the evictions and for Hamas to stop the bombardement.
Now let us dig a bit deeper. I will try to address the issues chronologically to (maybe) make some sense out of the situation:
a) Before 1948, approximately 30% of the inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrah were Jewish. They chose that neighborhood of Jerusalem because of its proximity to the grave of Shimon HaTzadik, a Rabbi from the time of Alexander the Great credited with convincing Alexander not to destroy the Temple.
b) During the war of 1948, Jews evacuated Sheikh Jarrah for West Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah remained in Jordanian hands. It initially respected the property rights of the Jews who left the village.
c) In the 1950s the Jordanian government reached an agreement with the UNWRA under which some Arab families refugees from West Jerusalem would be given the houses (not the property rights) of the Jews who left Sheikh Jarrah to live in, in exchange for those Arab families renouncing their refugee status.
d) In 1967, Israel took control of Sheikh Jarrah.
e) In the 1970s, the families who had lived in Sheikh Jarrah and their descendants sought o reclaim their property rights over their former homes. The Court ruled that they had the rights, based on documents from the Ottoman era. The Jewish families allowed the Arabs to stay in exchange for rent. The area has been a source of tension ever since with periodic flare ups.
f) More recently, several of the Jewish families sought to evict their tenants; in a couple of cases for not paying rent and in others because they wish to move in. Sheikh Jarrah is located between West Jerusalem and the Hebrew University former Israeli exclave, providing continuity between the Jewish areas. The move is seen by Palestinians as part of a political agenda. The Palestinian Authority has been highlighting this conflict as a way to promote unrest in Jerusalem.
g) Earlier this year, Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority would hold elections on May 20th. On April 29, he announced that the elections would be indefinitely postponed until such a time as Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be able to vote. Israel reaction was that Palestinians can go an vote in the Palestinian areas, but not in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers sovereign territory.
h) Hamas, which was convinced they would win the announced elections, was looking for a way to force the PA to retract the postponement.
i) The PA, in order to change the internal political discourse in Palestinian society, began inciting Palestinians against Israel, with the old canard of "defilement of the Al Aqsa Mosque"
j) Hamas, not to be left out, took up the case of the Arab families in Seikh Jarrah and began rocket bombardement of Israel.
From here on, the escalation was fully predictable. So here is my take:
From prior elections in the Palestinian territories, we can see a clear pattern of vote distribution favoring Fatah (Abbas' party) over Hamas in urban areas, and favoring Hamas over Fatah in rural areas. In addition, preliminary polls show that Hamas would have won the elections; in part because of the support they have, and in part because Fatah was coming into it fractured, as it has been in 2006 (the last elections held by Palestinians). Abbas then postponed the elections blaming it on Israeli refusal to allow Palestinians in Jerusalem to participate in the elections.
Hamas, in an attempt on one hand to capitalize on the PA's incitement and on the other on the Sheikh Jarrah situation, began throwing rockets at Israel, Several seemingly unrelated issues were thus brought together to handle a Palestinian political crisis.
Hamas bombardement, however, is strengthening the irredentist elements in Israeli society at a time when Yair Lapid is in the process of attempting to form a more moderate government. This will probably make it more difficult for Lapid to complete his task, probably leading to yet another round of elections in Israel.
This, of course, is my take. I'm sure there are a lot of dissenting opinions out there... :)
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