Analysis: Opposition to contentious parade, which as of now includes Damascus Gate on its route, unites Palestinians across the board; meanwhile, neither Israel nor Hamas are willing to fold and appear as ‘giving in’ to other’s demands

The flag march in Jerusalem has been an annual tradition for decades.

The route of the march has gone through several changes, yet it has always included the Muslim Quarter and the Damascus Gate. The only time the marchers were prohibited from passing through the gate was last year, when then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered to change the route at the last minute over security concerns.

צעדת הדגלים
The Jerusalem flag march reaches Western Wall (Photo: Reuters)


Despite it being the only flag march that didn’t pass through the Damascus Gate, Hamas launched rockets towards the capital, kickstarting an 11-day war, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

A year has gone by, and Israel is hearing similar threats from terror factions in Gaza ye again, with this year’s flag march set to take place this coming Sunday. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad believe they can establish a new status quo in the capital, whereas the Damascus Gate will become off-limits to Israel.

A small-scale, unofficial flag march took place last month in Jerusalem as a response to the Temple Mount clashes during the holy month of Ramadan and attacks against Jews throughout the Old City.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad didn’t pass by that opportunity to level threats at Israel, warning that if the unofficial parade goes through the Damascus Gate, it would lead to unwanted escalation.
This time, the security directorate was against the route sketched out by the parade’s organizers, and the government listened to their advice.

מצעד הדגלים בירושלים יוצא לדרך
Flag march in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)


As a result, police set up checkpoints at Kikar Tzahal (IDF Square) and prevented marchers from reaching the Western Wall through the volatile gate. In Gaza and even Lebanon, they celebrated the reroute, claiming their threats had succeeded in folding Israel.

This year’s Jerusalem Day flag march once again unites Palestinians across the board toward a collective cause. All the way from Hamas to Fatah, from Yahya Sinwar’s office in Gaza to Mahmoud Abbas’ residence in Ramallah – threats of escalation are not being spared.

Hamas named itself the so-called guardian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque last year, and is trying to live up to its word. Meanwhile, Israel won’t allow itself to bend to demands of terror groups and allow Hamas determine its conduct in the capital. Hence, a classic game of chicken is under way.

This entanglement will be set in motion in the morning hours of Sunday, when hundreds of Jews are set to visit the Temple Mount, including far-right lawmaker MK Itamar Ben-Gvir.

איתמר בן גביר בצעדת הדגלים
Far-right lawmaker MK Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)


The Palestinians have similar plans. Hamas and Fatah are calling on residents of east Jerusalem and all Arab Israelis to make their way to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday in order to “protect” it from the marchers.

Palestinian youth, including those belonging to the Shabab al-Aqsa group, plan to camp out on the Al-Aqsa compound there so that police won’t be able to prevent them from entering.

A small glimmer of optimism, however, can be detected in the indirect talks between Israel and Hamas – held with the help of the Egyptian mediators, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, and the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed al-Emadi – the Qatari envoy – stayed in the Gaza Strip throughout the last week, and made sure a generous monetary grant was transferred to Hamas in an effort to calm the tensions. On Tuesday, he even traveled from the Gaza Strip to Israel before returning to Doha.

מוחמד אל-עמאדי
Mohammed al-Emadi (Photo: AP)


A minor anecdote from al-Emadi’s visit to Israel shows just how successful Hamas has been in embedding its narrative.

During talks, al-Emadi asked why Israel insists on allowing its marchers to pass through the Damascus Gate. The representative explained that this was the customary route since the beginning of the practice, and Hamas has only expressed resistance to the route in the past two years. Al-Emadi, apparently, was not aware of that.

Every change in the march’s route will represent a victory for Hamas in the public eye, especially in matters regarding the Temple Mount, thus Israel cannot agree to such. Folding could prevent immediate escalation, but is bound to have severe long-term consequences, which Hamas would use to alter the Israeli policies according to their needs.

They cannot be bestowed with this prize.

As reported by Ynetnews