Religious fundamentalists are gaining greater influence on both
sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, complicating peace
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process suspended, religious
fundamentalists on both sides of the conflict are gaining wider
influence. Palestinian and Israeli analysts alike warn that the
trend could further complicate prospects for a resolution by turning
a nationalist clash over territory into more of an absolutist
The typically secular Palestinian Authority (PA) has joined the
militant Hamas movement in using Islam as a rallying point, while
Israeli settler groups, citing Scripture and backed by one of the
most right-wing governments in Israeli history, are gaining
unprecedented(?) momentum in their drive to take control of Arab
''On both sides, religious fundamentalist elements are on the
rise politically,'' says Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee
Center for Strategic Studies.
Hani Masri, director of the Badail think-tank in Ramallah,
agrees: ''The religious factor in the conflict was always there but
it has become stronger,'' he says.
The change in the nature of the conflict is due in part to the
failure of the peace process begun in 1993 when the two respective
leaderships were both secular, according to Ghassan Khatib, director
of the PA's media center. Religious and ideological radicalism has
grown on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide, as evidenced
by Hamas's victory in parliamentary elections in 2006.
''The failure of the secular leaderships ... in achieving the
objectives of their respective publics weakened them and allowed a
shift in the balance of power ... in favor of those forces and
groups and sectors against the peace process that are more radical
politically and ideologically,'' says Mr. Khatib.
But that's just one of the root causes, says veteran Palestinian
journalist and blogger Said Ghazali, who also cites "the failure of
the PA to build a good society, economic problems, and Islamists
gaining power in the Arab world."
'There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him'
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly stated his willingness to
accept a two-state solution and territorial compromise. But the
charter of Hamas - the Islamist movement that runs Gaza - considers
the entire area encompassing Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip
sacred Islamic territory ''consecrated for future Muslim generations
until judgment day."
It was an Abbas appointee, perhaps in an effort to outbid Hamas,
who recently deployed Islam to radicalize the conflict. Earlier this
month, the senior PA cleric, Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein,
invoked a hadith that says that the resurrection - when pious
Muslims will go to paradise - will not take place until the faithful
''The hour will not come until you fight the Jews," said Mr.
Hussein, quoting the saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad. "The
Jew will hide behind stones and trees. Then the stones and trees
will call: O Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me,
come and kill him.''
Hussein later denied that the sermon, delivered Jan. 9 at the
47th anniversary of the establishment of Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement,
was a call to kill Jews. But the fact that it did not prompt a
condemnation from the PA, which aired the speech on its TV channel,
is a telling sign of poisoned relations as Israeli and Palestinian
leaders in Jordan were trying to revive peace talks.
'Descendants of apes and pigs'
The moderator at the Fatah rally said explicitly that the
conflict is a religious one. ''Our war with the descendants of the
apes and pigs is a war of religion and faith,'' he said.
But Palestinians do not have a monopoly on incendiary invective.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the religious Shas party
- part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition -
has said over the last decade that Arabs should be attacked with
missiles, that they are ''vipers,'' and that God should ''smite them
with the plague. …