The Age of the Unknowable – The impact of Israel’s political crisis on potential developments in Jerusalem

As of this writing in the beginning of December 2019, Israel’s political system is in deep crisis, one which makes it virtually impossible to make credible predictions as to anticipated events, even in the short run. A third round of elections are a definite possibility, but by no means certain.

Netanyahu’s political fate is cloaked with uncertainty, and thorny legal issues will need to be resolved in the days and weeks to come.

However, those of us who monitor events in and around Jerusalem have no alternative but to try and anticipate developments, however daunting that task may be. A number of observations are in order:

  • During the current political deadlock, the government will continue to be headed by Netanyahu, at least for the three-week period in which the Knesset may elect a government by a majority vote of 61.

    Fighting for his political life, and possibly to avoid trial, conviction and incarceration, Netanyahu has abandoned all pretense of moderation. He is vulnerable as never before. This would clearly indicate that his rhetoric, and perhaps his actions will tend to be inflammatory, especially on issues like Jerusalem. However, he is governing in a transition government with limited powers, and the legitimacy of his premiership is being called into question. This would indicate that Netanyahu will choose his “controversies” with caution, and of late, Jerusalem has not been high on his domestic political agenda (focusing instead on annexing the Jordan Valley).

    The bottom line: the current period of relative calm (no E-1, Givat Hamatos, Khan al Ahmar) is continuing, and may well continue in the weeks and months to come. Under current circumstances, concrete Israeli moves towards annexation look unlikely even though Netanyahu can be expected to continue to call for the annexation of the Jordan Valley as part of his campaign towards third elections. That said, Netanyahu can pivot, and change all this without warning, and vigilant monitoring is called for, on all fronts.

  • In this current period of “relative calm” noted above, the word “relative” should be highlighted. Many of the more problematic manifestations of occupation are so deeply embedded in the Israeli rule over East Jerusalem that they proceed apace regardless of the vagaries of political circumstances:  the nightly assault on Issawiya continues, the aggressive suppression of Palestinian political activity is accelerating, and so does the surge in home demolitions.

    The battle to succeed Netanyahu in the Likud and as Prime Minister has already commenced, and it is likely that some of the candidates will use their ministerial powers for their own political purposes. Consequently, the Minister of Internal Security Erdan will likely continue and highlight the actions of the police in Issawiya, and against Palestinian political persons and institutions, and Foreign Minister Katz will quite possibly attempt to establish his credentials by aggressive actions towards the Turkish involvement in and around the Haram al Sharif/the Temple Mount.

  • During this protracted political crisis, there does not seem to be any uptick in settlement announcements in East Jerusalem, although settlement expansion based on existing plans, tenders and permits proceeds apace.
  • Tensions on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif tend to be cyclical, in large part linked to sacred Hebrew and Muslim calendars. With the Jewish High Holidays behind us, there does not appear to be calendar-related tensions until Passover, next spring. That said, given Netanyahu’s political vulnerability, the Temple Mount movement may try testing limits on the Mount.