Israel’s release of convicted Palestinian terrorists and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s reported agreement in principle to concessions in the Jordan Valley
beg an important question: Can Israeli concessions influence the Palestinians to
sign an historic peace deal that ends the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for
The experience of former prime ministers Barak and Olmert with their
Palestinian counterparts may be helpful in understanding that even the most
far-reaching Israeli concessions have failed to end the conflict for an
historically under-appreciated reason: Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud
Abbas would be required to defy Islam’s view of territorial sovereignty to
arrive at a compromise with Israel. In short, once Islam conquers territory, it
remains Muslim forever.
Two recent historical examples illustrate the
problem. Following the collapse of the ill-fated Camp David Accords in 2000,
former prime minister Ehud Barak summed up his experience negotiating with
former PA chairman Yasser Arafat and the PA leadership in a “tell all” interview
with Israeli historian Benny Morris. Barak said, “What they [Arafat and his
colleagues] want is a Palestinian state in all of Palestine....Arafat
does not recognize the existence of a Jewish people or nation, only a Jewish
According to the Barak interview, “Arafat denied that any
Jewish temple has ever stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and this is a
microcosm of his denial of the Jews’ historical connection and claim to the Land
of Israel/ Palestine, which from his point of view has been Muslim since it was
conquered by Islam in 637 CE. Hence, in December 2000, Arafat refused to accept
even the vague formulation proposed by former US President Bill Clinton positing
Israeli sovereignty over the earth beneath the Temple Mount’s surface
area.” Dennis Ross also noted in his book, A Missing Peace, that Arafat
even refused to concede the ancient Jewish Western Wall to Israel.
is also “claimed” by Islam’s view of territory. As Arafat’s loyal deputy at the
time, and as Arafat’s successor, Abbas similarly denied the existence of
Israel’s ancient temple as recently as July 2012, telling an Israeli Arab daily,
“Anyone who wants to forget the [Islamic] past [i.e., the Israelis] cannot come
and claim that the [Jewish] temple is situated beneath the Haram [the Muslim
Abbas’s dedication to Islam’s uncompromising sovereignty over
Muslim territory also explains his rejection of Olmert’s equally far-reaching
peace offer in 2008. Olmert would later recall in a 2009 interview Abbas’s
zerosum stance on Jerusalem, saying, “I would never agree to an exclusive Muslim
sovereignty over areas that are religiously important to Jews and
Barak and Olmert’s recollections provide context to Abbas’s
approach to the current negotiations with Israel. The prime ministers’ post
mortems also illustrate a tenet of Islam that has been frequently overlooked by
western mediators and negotiators, but which claims fealty in the Muslim world
regardless of personal levels of religious observance.
jurisprudence dictates that once Muslim lands have been conquered by
non-Muslims, it is prohibited for Muslims to let non-Muslims rule those lands.
Muslims must ultimately reconquer them.
Professor Bernard Lewis, the
preeminent western scholar of Islam and the Near East, remarks in his most
recent book, Notes on a Century, regarding the view of Islam on territorial
rule, “that Muslims should rule over non-Muslims is right and normal. That
non-Muslims should rule over Muslims is an offense against the laws of God and
nature and this is true whether in Kashmir, Palestine, Lebanon, or
Lewis recalled his own visit to a local Islamic Center in
Cordoba whose members are still seeking to reconvert Spanish Christians to Islam
and reconquer Spain that Islam lost over 500 years ago.
If after 521
years Islam still rejects Spain as Christian, It is unsurprising that 65 years
of reestablished Jewish sovereignty in Israel collide with Abbas’s refusal to
accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. In Abbas’s view, Israel,
like Spain, Lebanon, Cyprus and the other lands of the Middle East, remain
Islam’s inheritance forever. If he were to concede territory to Israel, he would
subject himself to the Middle Eastern concept of “eib” or humiliation and shame
whereby others blame him for shaming the Palestinians, the Arab world and Islam
as a whole by what is called “compromise” in the West.
that he would be assassinated for signing a final peace deal with Israel. This
is just as true for Abbas. As Egyptian commentator Ali Salim observed recently,
“PA President Mahmoud Abbas undoubtedly knows that the minute he signs a peace
deal with Israel, the Palestinian terrorist organizations will assassinate him.”
Ironically perhaps, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had reportedly pushed Arafat to sign
a deal with Israel in 2000. How is it possible that Arab Muslim leaders would
seemingly compromise on this immutable Islamic principle that Muslim territory
cannot be conceded to non-Muslims? Had he agreed to a peace deal with Israel,
only Arafat personally would have been humiliated, which would not have mattered
to the Saudis or the Egyptians. That is why they only pressured Arafat
privately, not publicly. Otherwise Egypt and Saudi Arabia would have been
shamed as well.
Peace process observers may remember a humiliated Hosni
Mubarak calling Arafat “a dog” when Arafat balked at signing the Gaza Jericho
agreement with Israel in Cairo in 1994.
In sum, Islam cannot permit
non-Muslims to rule territories permanently that are or were once Muslim.
Nevertheless, Muslims can make temporary agreements when they are weak, modeled
after the agreement made by their prophet Muhammad made after his military loss
at Hudaybiya in 629. Later, when Muhammad was stronger, he abrogated this
agreement and defeated his enemies.
Hudaybiya therefore has
ramifications, not only for Spain and Israel, as explained above, but also for
other countries such as India and northwestern China which had been ruled by
Muslims for centuries. Hudaybiya is equally relevant to Abbas. Like the Muslim
prophet, he may agree to an interim accord due to his current weakness. But as
former prime minister Barak noted in 2002, the Palestinians will always look for
excuses to refrain from signing an end-of-conflict agreement.
Radio reported on December 31, 2013, Abbas now insists “all Palestinian
prisoners must be released to reach an agreement.” He simply cannot agree to a
permanent peace treaty that ends the conflict and all Palestinian claims and
recognizes Jewish sovereignty over any part of what was British Mandatory
Palestine.Dan Diker is a Research Fellow at the International Institute
for Counter Terrorism, IDC Herzelia, and a Foreign Policy Fellow at the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Dr. Harold Rhode is an Islamic affairs
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