Israelis, Palestinians and Their Neighbors Worry: Is This the Big One?

That situation was exacerbated by a long-simmering fight over what Halbertal called “sacred territory.” In brief, right-wing Israeli Jews had gotten a court order to evict six Palestinian families who are living in homes on land that was owned by Jews in East Jerusalem before the city was divided in the 1948 war. Palestinian families are fighting their eviction in court. Indeed, Israel’s Supreme Court was slated to rule Monday on whether the Palestinians could be expelled but delayed the decision because of the violence.

Palestinians argue that it is unfair that Jews can reclaim land or homes they owned in East Jerusalem before 1948 but Palestinians have no legal means to reclaim land they owned in West Jerusalem or anywhere else in Israel before 1948.

Clashes over these sacred dates and sacred spaces would be incendiary enough, but they were also fueled, as I said, by scenes on TikTok. In April, some Palestinian youths uploaded a short video of themselves assaulting an Orthodox Jew on public transportation, as a way of inspiring copycat attacks. In response, a far-right Jewish group named Lehava led a march through Jerusalem to the Damascus Gate of the Old City, chanting “Arabs, get out.”

The whole mess makes a Gordian knot look simple to untangle. But what is it all telling us?

The most obvious and important point is that a dangerously naïve consensus has emerged in Israel in recent years suggesting that Israel basically has the Palestinian conflict suppressed and those Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are basically resigned to living under permanent Israeli control. This consensus was so powerful that in all four of Israel’s recent elections, the question of peace with the Palestinians — how to achieve it and what happens if it is ignored — was not on the agenda.

The Abraham Accords engineered by the Trump administration, normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — while valuable in helping to stabilize the region — also reinforced the notion that the Palestinian cause is basically yesterday’s news. Today’s headlines prove the fallacy of that thinking.

By the way, the Biden administration has no interest right now in being forced to react to those headlines. It does not believe the conditions are right for any real progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the last thing it wants — when its primary focus in the region is trying to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, which is already causing huge tensions with Israel — is to get distracted by having to mediate a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians or blunt Iranian attempts to inflame the situation in Jerusalem.

But where do we go from here?

In part that depends on Bibi Netanyahu. Of all the crazy coincidences of this moment, maybe the craziest is that it comes in what could be Bibi’s final days as Israel’s prime minister — after more than 12 years in office. Netanyahu has an interest in seeing his rivals fail to form a new coalition to unseat him. He would like Israel to go to a fifth election — giving him a chance to hang on and maybe avoid jail if he is convicted in his current corruption trial. One way Bibi could do that is by inflaming the situation so much that his right-wing rivals have to abandon trying to topple him and declare instead that this is no time for a change in leadership.