Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Islam and Palestine


Islam is a problem for the faithful, as well as for the rest of us.

Its 1600 years of accumulated doctrines may not differ in essence from what Jews have accumulated in 2500 years or Christians in 2100 years. What is problematic, however, are all those Muslims stuck in a cycle of warfare against heresy and non-believers. 

It’s the same problem that produced centuries of killing among Christians from their earliest period, and hopefully has petered out in its last bastion of Northern Ireland.

Jews have avoided killing one another over affiliation with the wrong sect or faulty interpretations of holy text since the Jewish War described by Josephus.

What is said to be 60 organizations fighting Assad and one another is one manifestation of the problem that troubles Muslims. Another is the refusal of Saudi Arabia to countenance a rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran that will involve a mutual campaign against ISIS at the expense of tolerating the continuation of the Assad regime. Turkey’s on again off again acceptance of a role against ISIS, even to the extent of letting NATO planes use NATO airfields in Turkey to attack ISIS, may also be part of intra-Islamic warfare. Or it may be mostly an ethnic thing with Turkey shying away from anything that will help Kurds anywhere.

Turkish warplanes have bombed Kurdish sites within Turkey, on account of Kurds demonstrating against Turkish refusal to act against ISIS forces fighting against Kurds in Syria.

Among those who suffer from sectarian conflict within Islam are the Palestinians. Problems among Muslims are arguably more important than problems with Israel in keeping the Palestinians from realizing their dream of a state.

This may sound strange in a week when ranking Swedish, British, French, Russian, and American politicians spoke in support of a Palestinian state.

However, the ease of getting international endorsement, along with the warfare among Muslims, is a deadly combination for the prospects of a Palestinian state.

The setting leads the Palestinians to wait for others to act, and excuses them from tough decisions that will accommodate Israeli needs, partly out of fear about arousing conflict among Palestinians about some of the issues that keep Muslims at one another’s throat.

In a situation where a test of Muslim loyalty is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, or Israel’s character as a Jewish state, the Palestinians remain stuck without their all-important recognition by Israel.

The Palestinians may be tempted by the good words heard from across the Muslim spectrum as well as from Western do-gooders that come with nastiness toward Israel. However, those words come with nothing tangible. Israel’s accomplishments in science, medicine, technology, politics, and its military prowess are more tangible, and the Jews of Israel have more than two millennia experience in living with nasty words.

Ranking Palestinians have responded to the symbolic vote of the British Parliament, from which a majority of members abstained, like they respond to resolutions of the UN General Assembly, i.e., as if the realization of their dream is moments away. Among the comments heard from prominent Palestinians is that Parliament’s actions are a step in the direction of atoning for the Balfour Declaration.

Could this be the first step of the British Parliament to cancel the Balfour Declaration?

Need we remind the Palestinians who may be hoping for such a thing that such an act, even if accomplished, would not cancel what Israel has achieved? 

Is it easier for Palestinians to expect someone else to turn back history, in this case by nearly a century, than to accommodate themselves to a state that will have to exist alongside Israel, with the borders and other traits that will attract Israel’s acceptance.

Palestinians fear making the concessions that might bring them a state, even to the extent of saying that Israel is a Jewish state. They also cannot accept that their state might only be on the land that is left, after a half-century of rejecting what Israel was prepared to offer since 1967.

There are now 600,000 Israeli Jews living over the 1967 borders, and it is not wise to assume that all, most, or even a substantial number will move for the sake of Palestine.

A Palestinian heresy of accepting Israel as is, if committed, might get them a violent response from other Muslims or a stoppage of the financial aid they receive from elsewhere the Middle East. 

So the Palestinians remain stuck in the nether-land of being the darlings of politicians across the world, but with no accomplishments.

Currently Muslims are as deep in mutual animosity as were the Christians in their long history. Among the end points of intra-Christian warfare cited by scholars are the French Revolution that replaced Protestant-Catholic warfare with an ascendance of secularism; the end of severe anti-Mormonism in the US with the Church’s renunciation of polygamy in the 1890s; or the dampening (dare anyone say ending?) of violence in Northern Ireland a decade ago.

Israelis may be better off than others in the Middle East and elsewhere due to their practiced defense against Arab violence. One can guess that the dithering of the US and its nominal allies among the Muslims will allow ISIS to expand. ISIS personnel speaking for the cameras threaten actions against the West on the soil of Western nations. Observers are warning of another 9/11, or at least a series of smaller incidents like Ft. Hood and the Boston Marathon.

The recruitment of fighters, the armaments used by ISIS and their battlefield successes suggest considerable support among Muslims, despite the voices from Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in the Gulf, Turkey and Egypt speaking shrilly in opposition. 

If it will take boots on the ground to end the ISIS advance, it is only the US that has the boots and other military wherewithal. It may not happen during Obama’s Commander-in-Chiefdom, so we should hope that the casualties will not include people we know.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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