Media reports have recently published pictures and videos of a new Israeli military watchtower being set up at one of the most famous entrances of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Damascus Gate. “It is,” described the Israeli news website Ynet News, “a noticeable part of the landscape and an example of Israel’s increased security presence at the ancient entrance to the Muslim Quarter”.
Erecting this military watchtower did not come too long after the US President Donald Trump recognised the holy city of Jerusalem as the “eternal” capital of the state of Israel, a decision followed by practical American and Israeli measures to reinforce this recognition on the ground. Israeli authorities announced plans to build hundreds of thousands of settlement units and the US announced it would open its embassy in Jerusalem by May this year.
Judging by the responses to the watchtower in the Arab world and among Muslims, Palestine and Jerusalem have lost their position as the top issues for Arab and Muslim-majority states. Regarding the US and Israeli measures on Jerusalem, there has been some counter actions, but that was not more than shy condemnation or very limited demonstrations.
Regarding Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, the change of priorities for the Arab and Muslim state was very clear when only 16 out of 57 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) attended a summit held in Istanbul to respond to the US recognition. An observer commented on that shameful participation saying it was a “shocking response especially given that Jerusalem is supposed to be one of the most important issues for Arabs and Muslims”.
The Jordanian Kingdom voiced its anger with the US and Israeli measure as it considers itself the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem. But in July last year a guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman shot dead two Jordanians and the incident caused tension between Amman and Tel Aviv, pushing the latter to summon its staff and close the embassy. Such a heated situation should have been used to put pressure on Israel and its mother, the US.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced a three-day protest against the US decision but beyond the three days cracked down on any anti-US and anti-Israeli action, imprisoned activists or passed information about them to the Israeli intelligence agencies. The PA President Mahmoud Abbas has met and phoned many Israeli officials since and reiterated to them that he would never accept the start of a Palestinian intifada.
Another sign which proves that Palestine and Jerusalem have become minor issues for Arabs and Muslims is the strong relations being forged between Israel and many of these countries, as well as the official exchange of covert and overt meetings, which has increased dramatically in the past few years, especially during Trump’s era.
It was just two weeks before the US moved on Jerusalem that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and said that Egypt is Israel’s best friend. In July 2016 Netanyahu and the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry watched the Euro 2016 Final at the former’s house in Jerusalem.
Former Israeli Ambassador to Cairo David Govrin revealed in March 2017 that Netanyahu and Al-Sisi had forged close relations. Not long ago Netanyahu and his rival in the Israeli opposition Ishaq Herzog met Al-Sisi secretly in Cairo as Al-Sisi tried to mediate reconciliation between the two Israeli leaders. Al Jazeera revealed that several Arab countries helped broker a secret Netanyahu-Herzog meeting in Cairo with the aim of forming a coalition government in Israel. The Muslim Arab states are supporting Israel’s stability and are pressing for reaching a stable and strong Israeli government.
The number one in the Saudi royal family Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, paid a secret official visit last year to Israel along with an official delegation.
Commenting on this issue, Israeli Minister of Communications Ayoob Kara said: “There are a large number of Arab countries that have ties with Israel in one way or another, starting with Egypt and Jordan to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, North Africa and a section of Iraq,” noting that the Saudi-led rapprochement with Israel is “not public because of the culture of the Middle East that is sensitive regarding this matter”. Even Saudi media has already opened its arms to Israeli officials to communicate with its audience.
Israeli penetration into Arab countries exceeded operational and military capacity. “For more than two years,” The New York Times reported, “unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 air strikes inside Egypt, frequently more than once a week – and all with the approval of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi”. Commenting on this, the newspaper said: “Once enemies in three wars, then antagonists in an uneasy peace, Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war against a common foe.”
It is clear the “foe” has become political Islam; one of Israel and the US’ attempts to turn the Arabs and Muslims against the Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas is by linking it to Daesh. During the last major Israeli offensive on Gaza Netanyahu said: “Hamas is like Isis [Daesh], Isis [Daesh] is like Hamas.”
Israel is doing whatever it wants in Palestine and Jerusalem without having to worry about the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim responses. After all of these dramatic breakthroughs, will the Arabs and Muslims grant Israel official membership in the Arab League and the OIC should it request it? I am sure if this happened the Arab world and most Muslim leaders would approve.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.