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September 29, 2016 / 26 Elul, 5776
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The Sound Of Silence

Given its context, the recent declaration of the mufti of Jerusalem that it is Muslim destiny to destroy the Jewish people cannot be dismissed as the primitive rant of a crackpot cleric.

Perhaps more disturbing than his actual diatribe is that Israel’s ostensible peace partner, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, has yet to be heard from. Nor has there been any discernible reaction from those – including the Obama administration and the Middle East Quartet – who constantly call for Israel to do more to get negotiations moving again.

A little over two weeks ago, the mufti, who is officially the principal Palestinian Authority religious leader, citing a traditional religious text attributed to the Prophet Muhammad , said at an event celebrating the 47th anniversary of the founding of Mr. Abbas’s Fatah movement:

The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: “Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

The mufti was introduced by a moderator who said, “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs [i.e., Jews] is a war of religion and faith. Long live Fatah.”

The mufti did not distance himself from the moderator’s remarks.

Consider the following: The speech was broadcast by PA TV, which is controlled by Mr. Abbas. In addition, the mufti works for Mr. Abbas. Yet, as mentioned, Mr. Abbas has been silent on the issue. This takes on added significance inasmuch as Mr. Abbas – fresh off his twin failures of getting Israel to make concessions and of birthing a Palestinian state at the UN – has been calling on his faithful to engage in a “peaceful” intafada.

And then there is the recent interview with the Independent from no less an authority than Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Addressing the overwhelming (75 percent) number of seats scored by Muslim parties in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, Mr. Haniyeh said:

The Palestinian cause is winning. With the Muslim Brotherhood part of the government [in Egyptl, they [the Egyptians] will not besiege Gaza. They will not arrest Palestinians. They will not give cover to Israel to launch a war…. Gaza was a main reason for the Arab Spring. It was people’s anger at the regimes that cooperated with Israel and did not recognize the government here…. Israel is disturbed by this. It knows the strategic environment is changing. Iran is an enemy. Relations are deteriorating with Turkey. With Egypt they are really cold. Israel is in a security situation they have never been in before. The Palestinians are winning more than anybody else due to what’s happening in the Arab countries. That will come out clearly in the future.

Mr. Haniyeh may not be correct across the board but he certainly mentions what have to be legitimate Israeli concerns in terms of negotiations with the Palestinians. Coupled with Mr. Abbas’s apparent willingness to let the Arab street drive the Palestinian relationship with Israel, one wonders why President Obama and the Quartet do not see the need to read the riot act to the Palestinians about anti-Israel incitement and what will be required to allow Israel to determine a reasonable approach to a peace agreement.

To be sure, there are those who will point to President Obama’s oft-expressed declarations that his commitment to the “security” of Israel is “unshakable.” Yet that formulation avoids the issue of Israel’s retaining its settlement population centers in the West Bank in any peace agreement – which was U.S. policy under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It also presupposes that Israel will agree with the president on where its security interests lie. Recent developments concerning Iran should raise some alarm bells.

Indeed, most observers perceive a significant disagreement between the Obama administration and Israel over how to deal with the issue of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear- weapons capacity. Without getting too much into the particulars, suffice it to say that Israel, which views the matter as presenting an existential threat to its survival, is inclined toward a military solution while the U.S. is considerably less so. Thus, the two countries are at odds over the effectiveness of economic sanctions and even how severe those sanctions should be.

But there is also deep division on the military aspect itself. The U.S. seems reluctant at this point to consider military action because of possible Iranian retaliation against U.S. targets in the area. Yet when Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz and choke world oil supplies, the U.S. declared a “red line” which if crossed would trigger a massive American military response. And the U.S. then massed perhaps the planet’s most lethal military force in the area. It could not have been lost on Israel that the Iranian response to any attack would be the same no matter what precipitated it.

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