JERUSALEM — Crowds of Palestinian youths violently rampaged in east Jerusalem Wednesday following the shooting death of a local man, clouding fragile peace efforts even as the Palestinian president signalled he may back away from threats to quit negotiations if Israel resumes West Bank settlement construction.
At one point, Israeli riot police stormed the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — the most explosive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the place where the last Palestinian uprising began almost exactly 10 years ago.
That uprising — which killed thousands of people over some five years of violence — erupted after a failed U.S.-led peace effort at Camp David.
Wednesday’s outburst comes less than a month after the sides resumed peace negotiations, at a tense moment when those talks are facing possible collapse over Israel’s plans to end its slowdown of construction in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank.
The “moratorium” on construction was declared last November under intense U.S. pressure to help coax the Palestinians into talks with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who — despite having accepted the principle of a Palestinian state — inspires very little faith in the Palestinians. Netanyahu said all along that the measure would end on Sunday — and the Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the talks if this occurs.
The impasse and looming deadline have created a palpable tension.
On Monday, Israel’s deputy premier made a public call on the Palestinians to abandon their demand, casting such a move as a mutual “compromise” in which Israel might retain some of the restrictions. On Tuesday, Israel’s military chief warned that a collapse of the talks could well lead to violence.
Meanwhile, the Israeli political system braced for either outcome. If Netanyahu backs down and extends the freeze, troubles with his pro-settler coalition partners are likely and he would have to persuade the centrist Kadima party to join the coalition.