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EDITORIAL: Just days after returning to power as the most far-right government in Israel, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is showing its true colours.

In a move widely seen as deliberate provocation, the new national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest place in Islam located in the occupied East Jerusalem. It may be recalled that a similar visit in 2000 by the late Jewish extremist leader Ariel Sharon had triggered the second Palestinian Intifada that lasted for four years.

In May of last year, again, a fierce 11-day conflict had erupted over the same issue. Notably, under a long-standing arrangement that goes back to the seventh century, Jews can visit the site revered as the Biblical Temple Mount, but not pray there. Although reports say Ben-Gvir did not pray inside the compound, his trip has escalated tensions, likely to cause deadly violence anytime.

Several Muslim countries, including the UAE, Jordan and Egypt with which Israel has diplomatic ties as well as Saudi Arabia have denounced the visit. Turkey which had recently normalised relations with Israel after a prolonged diplomatic row has also deplored the move as ‘provocative’. Concerned about its effect not only on the Palestinians but Muslims everywhere the US has also joined the chorus of condemnations, saying it “stand firmly for preservation of the status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem, and unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo is unacceptable.”

It is only a beginning of a bigger plan, rightly seen by the Palestinians as a precursor to Israel taking complete control over the compound and beyond. Last year Ben-Gvin, a Netanyahu protégé, had made known, in a tweet, his intention to turn the site into Jewish temple. He has also been calling for expulsion from the occupied West Bank of all Palestinians “disloyal” to Israel.

Another Netanyahu ally, Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party, has questioned the right of Arabs to live in the West Bank, unless they accept a status inferior to Jews. In fact, in what an Israeli human rights group, B’ Tselem, has termed a “fast track crime” the new government has already started large-scale expulsions of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank.

Prime Minister Netanyahu does not care about censure — rare at any rate — from the American administration, secure in the knowledge that Israel has the backing of the powerful Jewish lobby with its immense influence over Congress. He will not stop confiscating more and more Palestinian lands, and the Palestinians will never give up the fight to end occupation of their ancestral homeland.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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