Sheikh yusef al-Qaradawi.
(photo credit: Shaib Salem/ Reuters)
Will Hamas recognize the State of Israel? The answer is obvious: No, it won’t.
The entire world is demanding that the ruling fundamentalist regime in Gaza
recognize the State of Israel, but Hamas’s intransigent leaders continue to
repeat, time and again: “No chance. Never.” While signing the reconciliation
agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas leader
Khaled Mashaal declared that Hamas would strive for the establishment of a
Palestinian state in the 1967 borders – and that, even in the eyes of Hamas’s
moderates, is absolutely as far as they will go. In other words, even Hamas’s
moderates are, begrudgingly, willing to accept coexistence alongside Israel, but
they will never recognize the state.
This position must be understood
within the context of the “religious national” character of Hamas, in which
religion takes priority over nationalism. And Muslim religious law does not
permit them to recognize the state.
Which leaves us asking: What type of
relationship, if any, can there be between Israel and Hamas?
A recent book, War, Peace and International Relations in Islam, written by scholar Yitzhak
Reiter of the Department for Islamic and Middle East Studies at the Ashkelon
Academic College, may provide an answer. Reiter offers interesting analysis of
Muslim religious positions, especially with regard to Israel.
is particularly relevant now, just as it has been announced that US President
Barack Obama’s Administration will permit American representatives to meet with
members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Indeed, Secretary of State Hilary
Clinton declared during a press conference on a trip to Hungary June 30: “We
believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the
interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and
committed to nonviolence that intend to compete for the parliament and the
presidency.” This is a decisive change in the US position. Given that Hamas is
an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, any and all developments in the positions
and attitudes of the Muslim Brotherhood directly affect Hamas. And even more
directly, there have also been indications of contacts between European
diplomats and representatives of Hamas, in particular with regard to the
possibility of relations with Israel.
Hamas’s leadership has proven that
it gives itself extensive diplomatic leeway. When all of the governments
of the world refused to recognize Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip, Hamas was
pushed into an international corner. In response, Hamas did not hesitate to form
ties with its worst ideological opponents. First, they allied themselves
with the Shiite government in Iran and its Hizballah satellite in Lebanon.
Historically, there is a hostile ideological gap between the Sunnis, represented
most clearly by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Iranian
Shiites. But in this case, Hamas’s diplomatic interests outweighed those
Hamas has also formed ties with another
ideological foe – the Baath regime in Syria, which purports to be secular. And
indeed, since I frequently watch Arab television stations, I can say definitely
that Syrian female news anchors dress just like their counterparts in the West –
which is very different from the traditional dress worn by women in Gaza and
other religiously-controlled states.
The war with Israel and the
hostility towards the West form the only real connection between Hamas, Syria
and Iran. But recent shock waves in the region, including the riots in Syria and
differences of opinion within the Iranian leadership, could create a new
This reality will be affected by, and will affect,
Islamic religious interpretations.
In his book, Reiter discusses pluralism in the Muslim world: He describes the Muslim Internet sites that
present hundreds of religious rulings and interpretations; the muftis (who make
religious rulings, known as fatwas) who hold official positions and are thus
dependent on and subservient to the ruling regime; and the other muftis who rule
in favor of opposition groups.
According to Reiter, in the modern age,
Islamic thought can be divided into two main schools: the radical fundamentalist
school, which calls for ongoing religious war (jihad), and the pragmatic liberal
school. Both schools attempt to interpret and accommodate the Islamic laws of
war and peace with modern reality.
Both of them are based, among other
sources, on the famous hudaibiya treaty that the Prophet Muhammad signed with
his enemies, the people of Mecca, in 628. He signed the agreement when it became
clear to him that he was too weak to overcome his enemies. As the years passed,
and as his power grew, Muhammad consistently retreated, step by step, from that
agreement. The common interpretation of this diplomatic precedent set by
the prophet is that, given political constraints, it is permissible to agree to
a cease-fire with enemies.
In order to understand how this affects us
today, Reiter brings two religious rulings related to relations with Israel.
Both have been handed down by well-known and well regarded religious
The first ruling was given by Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, an
Egyptian scholar allied with the Muslim Brotherhood who was exiled to the
Emirate of Qatar during the rule of president Hosni Mubarak. Qaradawi is
famous throughout the Arab and Muslim world because of the regular program,
“Shari’a [religious law] and Life,” that he presents on the al-Jazeera pan-Arab
TV network. Tens of millions of people watch this program and Qaradawi’s
vehemently anti-Israel religious interpretations, including, for example, his
support for suicide bombers who kill Israelis. Qaradawi ruled that the State of
Israel stole the sacred Muslim land and exiled the Palestinian people and
therefore any contact or agreements with Israel are forbidden.
relates an anecdote that attests to Qaradawi’s political influence: A
legislative proposal proposing a 10-year prison sentence and a heavy fine for
anyone who meets or concludes agreements with Israel was presented to the
Bahraini parliament. The proposal emerged immediately after a meeting between
the Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Ben Ahmed al-Khlaifa with
then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and was based on Qaradawi’s rulings. The
proposal was rejected.
It is worth noting that in Islam, as in Judaism,
the issue of “possible theft” is a very serious crime. Not long ago, a
Palestinian teacher from East Jerusalem told me that one of his students
school, a particularly devote Muslim, asked him if he could charge the
to his cellphone in an electric outlet in the class – the student was
that he would be stealing electricity from the school (which,
belongs to the Municipality of Jerusalem).
The story is making
around East Jerusalem – and many people are taking it very
Religious rulings against Israel, such as those made
Qaradawi, are published and well known throughout the Arab world and in
well. But the rulings that permit contact and agreement with Israel
The most important of these was proclaimed by the
of Egypt Jaad al-Haq in support of the 1979 peace agreement between
Israel. Al-Haq, who at the time was the head of Al-Azhar, the most
religious academic institution in the Arab world, was viewed by the
public as a
“court mufti,” – that is, as
one who supports the policies of the leadership;
yet his ruling was written in depth and well argued, and has served as
foundation for other Islamic scholars’ responses to the State of
This has been an especially important issue for religious
scholars who have had to justify and explain the peace agreement between
Hussein of Jordan and Israel in 1995 and the Oslo Accords between Israel
Yasser Arafat’s PLO in 1993. The need for religious interpretations and
that permit agreements became even more crucial following the Saudi
of 2002 (which subsequently became the Arab League Peace Initiative.
initiative not only outlines agreements with Israel, on condition that
retreats to the 1967 borders and solves the refugee problem, but even
significantly, it calls for complete normalization of relations with
These pragmatic rulings rest on the argument that if they cannot
overcome Israel – then the Muslims must do the best that they can for
nation in peaceful ways. “This is essentially support for the ‘land for
principle,” Reiter says. And this position is becoming increasingly
among the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose representatives are no
demanding that the peace agreement with Israel be abrogated.
And it is
certainly the position of Hamas. In other words, liberal Muslim
interpretations state that there is no point in maintaining an “all or
stance and that the Arab nation should strive to get what it can, in
for agreeing to a cease-fire – a hudna,
according to the diplomatic precedent
set by Muhammad.
In Muslim thought, in the positions that the Arabs take,
and, most certainly, in the Palestinian national arguments, the status
Jerusalem is paramount. Only recently, the Arab world celebrated
fabled night journey to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to bring the Koran down from
heavens. The story is told in the Koran and the place is identified with
Jerusalem. Muslims pray in the direction of the Al-Aqsa mosque, the
important mosque in Islam after Mecca and Medina. They believe that they
must do everything to bring this back to Muslim rule – even if it means
to coexist with Israel.
When simultaneously reading Reiter’s book and
recent headlines in the media, one reaches the conclusion that ever
Obama’s famous speech in Cairo (to which representatives of the Muslim
Brotherhood were invited, despite Mubarak’s opposition), the American
Administration has been following a very clear route: to encourage and
connections with moderate Islam.
The West, and especially the Americans,
still define Hamas as a terrorist movement. But that definition can
change, and the first sign of this change is the new relationships
American Administration and the Muslim Brotherhood.