Nothing to be happy about, nothing to get killed over
Analysis: Joy in Israel over President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital was restrained, as was Palestinian anger; both sides realize decision has no practical ramifications, so there's nothing to be happy about, nothing to get killed over; the Gaza theater is simmering, and Israel hopes Hamas realizes it may be led to escalation it does not seek.
US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital did not whip up quire the furor in the Arab and Muslim street envisioned by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and head of Hamas's political bureau Ismail Haniyeh.
The Arab street's reaction, in fact—as seen in a multitude of Muslim countries the world over—was relatively moderate and subdued, with hardly any violence with murderous intent, as seen in the October 2015 events and the "metal detector intifada."
The Arab-Muslim backlash, in fact, was a mirror image of the jubilation evident in the Israeli street following Trump's announcement; it was also subdued and markedly free of euphoria. Both the ones and the others—Jews, Palestinians and Muslims—did not lose their minds, perhaps because the American president happens to be Donald Trump and certainly because both Israelis and Palestinians know the decision has no practical significance capable of changing reality on the ground.
So there's nothing to be happy about, and there's nothing to get killed over. The main reason is that the entire ordeal, including Trump's announcement, was not perceived as a religious matter—a threat to the holies of Islam—but a national-political issue. It's not something young girls and boys are willing to take a knife and be martyred over.
Friday's demonstrations in the West Bank saw no stabbing attempts or weapons' fire, nor were there attempts to carry out terrorist attacks against settlers overnight. That's not happenstance. The Palestinian backlash to Trump's speech did not carry enough energy to jumpstart truly dangerous violence.
The involvement of Palestinian National Security personnel behind the scenes also headed off escalation, but most of all—Israel's security forces, the IDF and the police, exercised their strength with much reserve.
The country's security forces attempted—and mostly succeeded—in keeping a safe distance of at least several dozen meters between themselves and Palestinian rioters in almost all friction points, which prevented escalation into physical conflict and the use of live fire.
Almost all of the people reported by the Palestinians to have been wounded in clashes Friday, in fact, were hurt by inhaling tear gas and burning tire fumes and not by Israel's security forces. That is precisely the reason why not a single person was killed in the West Bank, and all the better, because experience shows any casualty or any funeral leads to more violence and, in turn, more casualties.
The situation on the ground in Gaza is markedly different. Since Israel's withdrawal in 2005, rioters have lacked available points of friction with either Israeli citizens or security forces.
The only place left for them to express their rage, then, is near the border fence. But throwing rocks and burning tires on Palestinian territory do next to nothing to affect security forces stationed on dirt batteries or small outposts along the fence.
For this reason, several impassioned rioters attempted to reach as close to the border fence as they could and even attempted to cross it. The IDF prevented them from doing so by firing rugers, miniscule guns 22 millimeters in diameter intended to wound, but not kill.
Palestinians nevertheless reported two people killed and dozens wounded in clashes along the fence. The IDF showed restraint here as well, and it was plain to see Hamas—despite Haniyeh's inflammatory remarks—was no more interested in escalation, certainly not in the Gazan theater.
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are extremely attentive to the hardships faced by the people of Gaza, hardships that have found no succor since Operation Protective Edge, and they don't intend to compound them, partly due to the fear that if they do, residents will end up revolting and overthrowing them.
Haniyeh and his people also apparently hoped Palestinians in the West Bank would do the dirty work for them, but were disappointed to find out they would not, hence the recent rocket launches over the weekend.
The vast majority of rockets launched from the strip were deployed by so-called "rogue Salafist organizations," with a vested interest in sparking a war between Hamas and Israel. While Hamas usually exerts serious efforts to prevent and foil such launches, its efforts in the past 48 hours have been somewhat lackluster, perhaps intentionally so.
Hamas may indeed be interested in the rogue fire "trickling" more intensively into Israel, partly because other measures have failed. Judging by Hamas's conduct on the ground, its leaders reached the conclusion it would be better to suffer the Israeli retaliation—which they knew was coming—in order for the rogue fire to provide the necessary component of violence Haniyeh so desperately craved to legitimize his rancorous comments on a Jerusalem intifada.
At this juncture, something happened that illustrates how combustible the region truly is. We know for a fact Israel is uninterested in escalation on the Gaza border, or anywhere else for that matter, and neither is Hamas. However, one rocket or mortar passing through the defense screen provided by the Iron Dome system and landing in Sderot changed everything.
Israel carefully weighed its options and communicated a warning to Hamas, followed by a retaliatory attack with harsher results than usual. The air force's strike Friday night damaged some significant Hamas assets, but intentionally avoided killing. Two Hamas terrorists were nevertheless killed in the attack, and yet Hamas showed restraint.
It was a "before-last" warning, with Israeli officials hoping Hamas would realize it may be pushed to escalation it is not interested in. Unintentional deterioration has thus far been averted, but only the coming days will tell whether the trend continues.
Protests in the Arab and Muslim world, meanwhile, have not exceeded expectations. The United Nations Security Council's session Friday carried no practical ramifications, but another discussion is planned involving the Arab League's council of ministers. However, the latter meeting is also expected to contain dramatic rhetoric and little else.
The only place, in fact, with a significant demonstration taking place was the Jordanian capital of Amman. King Abdullah II, who presides over a country with a 60 percent Palestinian majority, knows he has to let his people blow off steam on Jerusalem, and he indeed has. The Hashemite king once again proved he knows well how to ride the tiger's back, but also rein it in whenever necessary.
Once again the lack of a religious motivation played a prominent role in things not getting out of hand. The IDF and Israel Police's well thought-out preparations and rules of engagement should also be mentioned in this regard, as does the post in which Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai cautioned Palestinians to resist the allures of religious incitement.