The decision to declare the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb national heritage sites ahead of their renovation may lead the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to another boiling point: Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad's military wing, threatened Tuesday to launch attacks within Israel.
"If the Israelis continue to damage our mosques and holy places, we will respond within the Zionist territory," the al-Quds Brigades spokesman told Ynet. Israel's ministers, however, insist that the government will not renege on its decision.
Abu Ahmed admitted that the reinforced security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was preventing the Palestinian groups from operating inside Israel, but estimated that "in the coming months, or to be more exact – in the next six months, the rules of the games are expected to change and the attacks will not only be against the settlers in the West Bank, but also within the entity, as we are aware of the fact that the soft underbelly and the biggest pain are when the attacks take place deep inside the enemy's territory.
"As far as we are concerned, the annexation of the mosques to the heritage sites is another move of aggression and a move aimed at completing the Judaization of the holy sites – and all the organizations are required to respond."
He estimated that the attacks would be resumed in Israel and the West Bank in the near future, "as the Palestinians understand today that the diplomatic negotiations have led to nothing. Those were unnecessary negotiations which caused great damage to the Palestinians."
Fayyad: You forgot Jerusalem
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called on the international community on Tuesday to pressure Israel to renege on its decision to add the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb to the list of heritage sites. Fayyad said the move matched Israel's policy to establish the occupation.
The Palestinian prime minister added that the media had ignored the fact that Israel also declared Jerusalem's walls as heritage sires. "The Old City's walls are inside eastern and occupied Jerusalem, which will be Palestine's eternal capital."
Sheikh Khaled al-Batsh, one of the Islamic Jihad's leaders, said that "the Zionist decision on the heritage sites will be abolished, just like the occupation will be abolished. This makes it clear to us once again that with the enemy we must only use the language of force and resistance and Palestinian unity, in order to return to the Zionist enemy the mind it has lost, which has caused it to make such decisions."
He clarified that "the Palestinians will never agree to have the historic battle with the Zionist enemy settled in favor of the Zionist occupier. We will continue to believe in victory, will continue to hang on to the Palestinian issue, and the conflict will only be resolved when it’s in our favor."
Israeli government ministers, however, insists that the decision will not be changed, and criticize the Palestinian response. The cabinet is expected to convene Wednesday morning for its second weekly meeting to discuss the road development plan, but right-wing ministers are still enraged over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh's threats.
The Labor Party's ministers failed to comment on the matter. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is on his way to Washington, Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is in Sweden, and Ministers Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman declined comment.
'Rachel's Tomb purchased for full price'
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan blasted the Palestinian president. "Abu Mazen (Abbas) is finding it difficult to be freed of his past as a Holocaust denier and proves once again that in spite of his moderate image he does not acknowledge Jewish history, which dates back thousands of years and connects us to the Land of Israel. Even preserving holy sites like the tombs of our forefathers is used by him as an excuse to incite and encourage violence."
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom used an ancient claim: "This is insolent and outrageous and another attempt to rewrite history. The Cave of the Patriarchs, like Rachel's Tomb, are Jewish heritage sites pointing to the deep 3,700-year affiliation of the people of Israel to their land.
"The people of Israel's affiliation to the land did not begin – as the Palestinians are trying to claim – in the past 100 years, but when the Cave of the Patriarchs was bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite for 400 silver shekels and Rachel's Tomb was purchased for a full price in the Binyamin region.
"They are both still mentioned in the Torah in the Book of Genesis, and no one can take that away from the people of Israel. The wild Palestinian attack is aimed at trying to cut off the affiliation and rewriting history. This is a continuation of their ideological objection to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state."
Clashes in Hebron following Israeli decision (Photo: AFP)
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz noted that "the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb are part of Israel's heritage and this is a historical fact. Abbas had better educate his own people rather than the people of Israel."
Information Minister Yuli Edelstein added, "It's disappointing every time to see the Palestinians reveal their understandings in regards to a future agreement between us and them. They want to leave us as second class citizens, like Islamic countries did in the Middle Ages. How is it possible that Abbas, who strives for peace, wants to stop us from reaching the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb?"
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov presented a more moderate stand. "The development and upgrade of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb will cause them to thrive. This is an interest shared by Israel and the Palestinians, as it may lead to an increase in the tourist traffic to the entire region, which will be enjoyed by all sides."
The Hebron Committee slammed the Palestinian President as well: "Abu Mazen proves that he is an expert in terrorism and Holocaust denial, but completely ignorant when it comes to history. The Cave of the Patriarchs was a Jewish site thousands of years before Islam was created, and the building above it was constructed during the Second Temple, 2,000 years ago – 600 years before Islam."
Roni Sofer and Efrat Weiss contributed to this report