Israeli Premier Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Yemina party, which heads a fragile coalition of 60 lawmakers out of 120, warned that the international community must not ignore the aggression of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, terrorist organizations based in the Gaza Strip.
In a dialogue with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, he said he was disappointed that the organization does not condemn Hamas for firing rockets at civilian populations. Also discussed were the Jewish state’s efforts to bring about an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has caused thousands of deaths and some five million exiles.
For his part, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with American administration envoys Yael Lempert, Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, and Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary, and urged regional leaders to act responsibly and promote calm. The diplomats arrived in the region as part of Washington’s effort to de-escalate tensions between Israel and violent Palestinian groups, especially in Jerusalem. Lapid stressed his appreciation for the American efforts:
“Israel will protect the status quo on the Temple Mount and has no intention of changing it,” the foreign minister said, in contrast to the Palestinian narrative that incites unrest by arguing—as it has since 1967—that the Al Aqsa mosque, built on the site of the biblical Temple of Solomon, is in danger.
Senior American and Israeli officials discussed the new Jerusalem efforts, with the Hebrew government commenting that hundreds of thousands of Muslims prayed at the Al Aqsa Mosque in the first weeks of Ramadan, before Hamas supporters built barricades, threw stones and assaulted worshippers of other faiths in the Old City’s Arab quarter. “Our policy remains the same,” Lapid said, “the biggest problem we face is false rumors.
The chancellor and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is Future) party highlighted “the incredible amount of fake news and altered videos that have gone viral (…) that found their way into the mainstream media” and called on moderate Muslims and Arab state leaders to combat disinformation in order to foster calm.
Lapid told foreign media that “terrorist organizations have been trying to occupy the Al-Aksa Mosque to create an outbreak of violence in Jerusalem and, from there, a conflict throughout the country… Hamas and Islamic Jihad fanatics broke into the mosque again and again,” he added. “They brought weapons, threw stones and explosives from inside, and used it as a base to incite violent riots.”
Israeli policy has always been to allow prayers to continue normally, he explained, adding that his country is “dealing with Islamic terrorism whose aim is to sow fear and chaos.” In addition, the minister assured that Israel will not accept the firing of rockets at civilian villages from Gaza. “Hamas and the world must know that Israel will act and do whatever is necessary to defend the safety of its citizens.”
PNA de facto president Mahmoud Abbas threatened to halt security coordination and suspend recognition of Israel, during the meeting with Lempert and Amr. In practice, such an action would lead to chaos and the likely seizure of power in the autonomous areas of the West Bank by radical groups opposed to his regime.
Last week, Abbas canceled a Palestinian leadership meeting scheduled for Sunday, April 24, to discuss how to implement a Palestinian Central Council (PCC) decision to freeze the settlements. The resolution was announced last February, during a meeting in Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Autonomy, which governs the West Bank areas (biblical Judea and Samaria), where 90% of the region’s Muslim population lives. A similar decision adopted by the same Council in 2018 was ignored in practice.
During the dialogue with American diplomats, Abbas demanded intervention to “stop Israel’s escalation in the Palestinian territories,” said official Hussein al-Sheik, who attended the meeting.
The dictator’s demands have little to do with the reality on the ground and are more like slogans for internal use. Sheik described the conversation as “clear and frank,” adding that Abbas blamed “the occupation” for the escalation and the absence of a political horizon.
In 2001 and 2008, Arafat and Abbas rejected —respectively— peace plans that addressed almost all Palestinian grievances. Currently, Israel considers the map presented by the Trump administration as the most realistic solution to achieve a permanent settlement. That initiative was also rejected in 2020 by the Ramallah regime.
Abbas also called on Washington to fulfill its promise to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, which served as a diplomatic mission to the Palestinians. The same was closed in 2018 by President Donald Trump, who opened the American embassy to Israel in that city, sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The Biden administration upheld the decision. For their part, American diplomats after contacts with both sides urged “everyone to work for calm, especially in Jerusalem.” Typically diplomatic.