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Can Netanyahu stop Ben-Gvir from restricting Al-Aqsa access during Ramadan?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved in part to the demands of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir despite warnings by the security establishment against the appearance of an attack on religion.
TOPSHOT - Muslims celebrate in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque after the morning Eid al-Fitr prayer, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa mosques compound in Old Jerusalem early on May 2, 2022. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

TEL AVIV — The hold by extremists members of the Israeli government over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is abundantly clear as authorities prepare for Ramadan, the monthlong Muslim observance that draws hundreds of thousands of worshipers to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area. The site is also a magnet for Jewish extremists seeking to establish a right to pray at what they consider a Jewish holy site. 

This flashpoint has for decades been a source of concern because of its potential to spark religious war. This year, a conflagration seems more likely than in decades with Israel fighting the Islamist forces of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as extensive Israeli raids against Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

Reflecting the seriousness of the possibility, Israel's security cabinet convened on Sunday to hear assessments by the security chiefs. The discussion pitted relatively moderate ministers Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot, Ron Dermer and Aryeh Deri against the extremist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who demanded restrictions on access by Arab Israeli Muslims to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to worship. 

While Ben-Gvir sought to allow entry to Arab Israelis aged 70 and over, the security agencies recommended free access for all ages in keeping with past practice. Ben-Gvir’s unprecedented demand was deemed particularly egregious since Israel’s Arab community, 21% of the population, has to a large extent condemned the Oct. 7 attack, in which Hamas killed more than 1,200 Israelis, and has not held mass anti-government protests despite the subsequent war in Gaza that has led to the Israeli military killing tens of thousands of Palestinians, some of them family members.

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