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The Most Dangerous Month

Every ten years, the holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan overlap, and U.S. diplomats have been working with security officials throughout the region to prepare for an increased likelihood of violence in Jerusalem as tensions rise and true believers of all three faiths converge on the city. 
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April 6, 2022

April is the cruelest month. But with apologies to T.S. Eliot, this year in the Middle East it could be the most dangerous month as well.

Every ten years, the holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan overlap, and U.S. diplomats have been working with security officials throughout the region to prepare for an increased likelihood of violence in Jerusalem as tensions rise and true believers of all three faiths converge on the city. 

Ramadan began on April 2 and continues throughout the month. Passover, of course, starts on April 15 and is celebrated for eight days. The Catholic and Protestant Easter takes place on April 17 and the Orthodox Easter one week later on April 24. That is a lot of religious fervor in a dense Jerusalem over a short period of time. 

But even before the calendar turned to April, those tensions already erupted in violence and tragedy. A wave of terrorist attacks over the last week of March resulted in the deaths of 11 Israelis and not only forced the issue of personal security back to the forefront of Israeli politics but also offered an ugly reminder of the fragile foundation on which Israel’s diplomatic outreach to potential Arab allies is resting.

It seems like just over a week ago that many of us were minimizing the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Abraham Accords had laid the groundwork for not just economic and cultural but military cooperation between Israel and four Gulf states, and created the possibility of broadening previously existing relationships with Egypt and Jordan. Angry Palestinian voices protested the formation of these relationships, but it seemed like much of the Arab World was more concerned with the threat of Iran and cooperation with Israel than the complaints of the Palestinians.

Every ten years, the holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan overlap. That is a lot of religious fervor in a dense Jerusalem over a short period of time.

But the old era isn’t ready to step aside just yet. All three terror attacks took place within days of the Negev Summit, a series of diplomatic meetings between Israel and its Arab allies. The message was clear: further efforts to improve relations would be met with similar acts of terror. It doesn’t appear that any of the countries that has been meeting with Israel is backing off, but these attacks are the loudest reminder to leaders throughout the region that the potential for backlash to diplomatic progress is quite real. For Saudi Arabia in particular, whose leaders have worked quietly with Israel on security measures even while keeping a careful public distance, the attacks could send a very discouraging message.

The political ramifications within Israel are also noteworthy. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s precarious governing coalition is based on the idea of ignoring some of the most controversial issues that split the various factions, but an outbreak of terrorist activity makes that more difficult. Bennett must now fashion a security platform that can at least be tolerated by the wide array of left, center and right lawmakers and their constituencies, all while withstanding heightened criticism from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu for sacrificing the country’s safety to appease the more liberal members of his coalition.

Bennett will also face renewed pressure to abandon talks with the Arab countries, which critics suggest send a message of weakness and appeasement to Israel’s enemies. But as the United States continues to press forward toward a new nuclear agreement with Iran, the Gulf states could be Israel’s strongest allies in working to prevent — or at least weaken — the deal. Retreating from these new diplomatic and military partnerships could make Israel even more vulnerable to Iranian aggression.

And all this takes place at a time when Jerusalem will be hosting thousands of pilgrims from three of the world’s most prominent religions at an overlapping time on the calendar. There is never a good time for a terrorist attack, but the next few weeks have the potential to be especially fraught with peril. Elliot said that April was cruel because it was when we dared to hope. That might not be an issue this month.


Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. Join Dan for his weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” (www/lawac.org) on Tuesdays at 5 PM.

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