The terrorist attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem that left four worshippers dead has reduced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – if that were possible – to new depths of hopelessness.
A new cycle of violence has started, with no prospect of an end in the foreseeable future. The distinction this time is that the attack appears to be linked to pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jews to be allowed to pray at the site known to them as Temple Mount – which Muslims believe is the place where the Prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven.
Hitherto, only Muslims have been allowed to worship there – a position reaffirmed recently by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, – but even talk of change has caused outrage in the Islamic world. The attack may or may not signify that a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, has begun; more to the point, the two sides may be about to add religious war to the other, seemingly unbridgeable, differences that separate them. The last round of US-brokered peace talks, aimed at a two-state solution, collapsed barely six months ago. But it seems an eternity. Since then, there has been a third Gaza war. Sweden has recognised a Palestinian state and the UK Parliament has symbolically voted to do so. Jerusalem, the city both sides claim as their capital, is riven by suspicion and mutual fear; Israeli and Palestinian teenagers have been victims of reprisal killings.
Israel, meanwhile, continues to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank, while the relationship between Mr Netanyahu – whose evident goal is to weaken the Palestinians to the point of irrelevance – and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, could not be worse.
Yet any de-escalation of the latest crisis must start with these two leaders. Terror attacks against civilians are odious and utterly unjustifiable. But inflammatory statements from both of them have stoked, deliberately or otherwise, a spiral of violence and frustration that can lead nowhere. Action to halt it must come from the top.
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