It has become a bad tradition: When the general outlook of the situation in the Middle East worsens or sectarian violence escalates, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the region's key issue, intensifies. The sudden appearance on Arab political center stage of a new sinister figure, the Islamic State — not a myth or a shadow from the past but a real force in the occupied regions of Iraq and Syria, a phenomenon still misunderstood, terrifying and unpredictable — holds the region’s governments in a torpor. The Islamic State group’s actions and the lack of counteractions against this organization seriously exacerbate the situation in a region already overwhelmed by tragic events: the ongoing bloody war in Syria, the chaotic dissolution of Libya, a number of clashes in Yemen.
The intensity of the situation ignited both the longstanding Palestinian conflict and, in particular, its pressure point — the Jerusalem issue. It happened because Israeli authorities turned a blind eye to the actions of extremist Jewish groups. An obvious provocation was the recent decision to allow Orthodox Jews to visit the disputed holy sites in Jerusalem — without the right to pray there. The number of Orthodox Jews on the Temple Mount immediately increased, causing Palestinian outrage and concern [over whether this was] the beginning of a conspiracy to seize the holy sites.
As a result, violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces took place in Jerusalem in recent days and in a number of towns on the West Bank, as well as in Arab villages in Israel itself. There are casualties on both sides.
Everyone in Israel perfectly understands how sensitive the entire Islamic world is to any careless remark about al-Aqsa and that any change in the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites can result in serious clashes between the Muslims and the Jews, not only in Jerusalem but on a larger scale. Al-Aqsa mosque is the third most important Islamic shrine, and the charter of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation states that the headquarters of this organization must be located in Jerusalem.
Head of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas promised that all Palestinians, regardless of their religion, will be defending al-Aqsa mosque and other holy sites from extremists. He confirmed his intention to propose a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council calling for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by November 2016. If the United States blocks the resolution, the Palestinians will be willing to join the U.N. — the Palestinian National Authority currently has observer status. The danger of the present situation lies in the possibility of Islamists using it to their advantage.
It is worth mentioning that in his speech on Nov. 13, the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called to “erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere.” He calls the Islamists’ opponents “Jews, crusades, their slaves, tails and dogs.”
Today, the unity of the international community is needed more than ever. Most importantly, the actions of the five great powers, members of the U.N. Security Council, have to be integrated to prevent the situation from sliding to an extremely dangerous point.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after his meeting in Amman on Nov. 13 with King Abdullah of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and after his conversation with Mahmoud Abbas, claimed that he was able to make Israel commit to maintaining the status quo. All interested parties agreed to try to de-escalate the situation. However, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces continue. On Nov. 17, the Beirut newspaper Daily Star commented on the situation, emphasizing that Kerry’s initiative “failed miserably.” On Nov. 18, all mass media reported on a new incident where two Palestinians killed five Jews, injured four and were eventually shot in an attack on the synagogue. Israel and Arab countries immediately started talking about the beginning of the third Palestinian intifada.
This episode clearly illustrates that the United States is not able to resolve emerging crises alone; collaboration is the only way it can be done.
Today, increasingly more international observers discuss the need for the U.S., Russia, China and other leading states to combine their efforts to prevent a serious international conflict. They remind us that the common ground between Moscow and Washington on disposing Syrian chemical weapons saved the region from a difficult large-scale war. This sets an example.