The new Israeli government has approved a controversial march by far-right nationalists and pro-settlers groups through the occupied East Jerusalem Old City, a move that risks igniting tensions with the Palestinians hours after Benjamin Netanyahu gave power to and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Several right-wing Israeli groups are scheduled to take part in a so-called “Flag March” through the Damascus Gate of the walled Old City and in its Muslim quarter on Tuesday, drawing warnings from Hamas – the group that rules the besieged Gaza Strip – of renewed hostility we must proceed.
The move comes as tensions remain high in East Jerusalem over the forced displacement of Israeli Palestinian families by Sheikh Jarrah.
It also comes as a fragile ceasefire erupted in the besieged Gaza Strip following Israel’s 11-day military bombing of the enclave, which killed 253 people – including 66 children. At least 13 Israelis have been killed by gunfire from Palestinian armed groups in Gaza during the escalation in violence.
Palestinian factions have called for a “day of rage” against the march. Last month, Israeli crackdown on protesters in the commune of Al-Aqsa Mosque left hundreds of Palestinians injured.
“This is a provocation by our people and an aggression against our Jerusalem and our holy sites,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said of the march.
After meeting with the Israeli police chief and other security officials, the new Minister of Internal Security Omer Barlev approved the march and said that the police were well prepared, according to a statement brought by Israeli media.
“[Great] efforts are being made to preserve the delicate fabric of life and public safety, ”Barlev said.
It was unclear whether participants would be allowed to enter the Muslim quarter of the Old City, on a road that Israeli police had previously banned.
An original March 10 march was revisited at the last minute since tensions in Jerusalem had escalated.
Hamas has warned to resume hostility if it goes ahead, and Israeli media reported that the army had made preparations for an eventual escalation.
The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem banned its staff and families from entering the Old City Tuesday “because of calls for a Jerusalem Flag March and possible counter-demonstrations.”
The march poses an immediate challenge for Bennett’s government, which was approved Sunday by a 60-59 vote in parliament.
A change of course or cancellation of the march could expose the Israeli government to accusations of Netanyahu, now in opposition, and his right-wing allies giving Hamas the power to veto events in Jerusalem.
Suggesting that an adaptation of the route could be in reserve, Yoav Segalovitz, an assistant minister of internal security, said past governments had prevented nationalists from visiting Muslim sites in times of tension.
“The main thing is to consider what is the right thing to do at the moment,” he told Israeli radio Kan.
The formation of Bennett’s alliance of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties, with little in common other than a desire to defeat Netanyahu, has limited coalition-building efforts following the March 23 elections. , Israel’s fourth in two years.
Minutes after meeting Bennett, 49, his first full day in office, Netanyahu reiterated a commitment to overthrow his government.
“It will happen sooner than you think,” Netanyahu, 71, who spent a record 12 years straight in office, said in public comments to lawmakers from his right-wing party Likud.
With any disagreement among its members a potential threat to its stability, the new Israeli government hopes to focus on national and economic reforms and avoid issues such as politics toward the Palestinians.