Jerusalem violence spirals into conflict, threatening stability

JERUSALEM, May 11 — After weeks of tension in Jerusalem, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has spilled over to other areas as the two sides exchange fire in and around the Gaza Strip.
For decades, the dispute over Jerusalem has fueled wider regional conflicts. Although usually contained, it occasionally spirals into a larger clash which reverberates across the region.
The recent violence began when Israel decided to block Palestinian gatherings in the Old City of Jerusalem throughout the Muslim month of Ramadan.
The restrictions were lifted after violent confrontations between police and Arab residents. Shortly afterwards, plans to evict Palestinian residents from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem reignited the sparks.
Then a series of video posts on social media showing violence incited youngsters on both sides to take to the streets.
On Monday, while Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, the day that marks the capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Mideast War, Arabs demonstrated in the city.
Policemen and demonstrators were injured in the scuffles. The Hamas organization which rules the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern border threatened to retaliate and swiftly delivered by firing rockets at the Jerusalem area.
The majority of the international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jews born in annexed East Jerusalem are granted full citizenship, while Arabs are residents without voting rights in Israel. The discriminatory policy has been a major cause to the conflict there.
“The young people who take to the streets want hope, and want to feel like they belong. They feel like stepsons of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel,” said Ronit Marzan, a researcher of Palestinian society and politics from the University of Haifa. “They want a better life.”
The rocket attack on Jerusalem came after years that the contested city was off-limits in the conflict between the two sides. Last time Jerusalem was targeted was in 2014 during a major war between Hamas and Israel.
After the attack on Jerusalem, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at southern Israel. The Israeli military responded with over 100 airstrikes on Gaza. Palestinians have reported over 20 deaths in the Israeli offensive.
“The terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the rocket attack on Jerusalem. “Israel will respond with great force.”
Marzan said if Hamas doesn’t answer the calls to help the Palestinians in Jerusalem, it will lose its legitimacy amongst the Palestinians and supremacy over other organizations.
But if Hamas drags Gaza into a major war against Israel, “that will cause a heavy price, and Hamas will be under harsh public criticism,” he added.
The violence comes at a time of political instability on both sides.
Earlier this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed legislative elections supposed to be held on May 22 for the first time in 15 years.
The decision was made over questions on the right of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote. Hamas said Israel is responsible for the cancellation of the election.
In Israel, negotiations on the formation of a new government after an election two months ago are underway with the attention of the politicians distracted from properly managing the current escalation.
But also, the regional political climate has changed. Just months after Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and Oman, this escalation will be a major test as to the strength of these new ties.
While Israeli military action could risk the peace, these countries could use their influence on the Jewish state to broker a cease-fire. In addition, it is still unclear how the U.S. administration will handle the crisis.
“Since 2014, similar explosive situations were avoided through international intervention,” said Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
“There is still room on both sides to make diplomatic and political moves to de-escalate the situation as soon as they have the will to take such action and there will be the presence of an international actor able to deliver,” Goren added.
As long as Jerusalem remains tense, it will be difficult to reinstate calm in other areas. It will be up to all sides to act responsibly in order to avoid a further escalation. International intervention will, as always, be critical in reducing the tension. (Xinhua)