By Caroline Glick
The ceasefire negotiations between Israel and the Hamas terror group’s regime in Gaza point to a central truth about the nature of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Before anyone speaks any more about a possible “deal of the century,” or a “two-state solution,” it is imperative that the implications of those talks be fully understood.
The ceasefire talks are being held between the sides of two separate international coalitions. On the one side are Israel, the U.S., and Egypt. On the other side are Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey.
The party that has been most notably absent from the discussions is the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA, which was formed in 1994 in the framework of talks between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, is charged with running the Palestinian autonomous areas that Israel transferred to PLO control. Until June 2007, that included the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria.
In 2006, the PA held elections to its legislative council. Hamas won. In 2007, Hamas forcibly ejected the PA from Gaza and set up its own terror regime, which has ruled – with public support – ever since.
The PLO is an umbrella organization that includes several aligned Palestinian terror groups. Fatah, which was established by Yasser Arafat in 1958, is the largest faction of the PLO. Until his death in 2004, Arafat headed Fatah, the PLO and the PA. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, similarly sits at the helm of all three groups.
Since it was established in 1964, the PLO has insisted that it is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Since the PA was established in 1994, the PLO has sought to convince Hamas, the Muslim-Brotherhood’s Palestinian terror affiliate, to join its ranks. Although Hamas and Fatah have negotiated multiple unity deals since then, many of which involved Hamas joining the PLO, none of the deals was ever fully implemented.
Since Hamas ousted Fatah forces from Gaza, on the ground, PA/Fatah has served as Hamas’s financier and diplomatic representative. It has used the internationally-funded PA budget to pay for Hamas’s regime in Gaza. Abbas’s PLO representative Azzam al-Ahmad served as the chief Palestinian negotiator in ceasefire talks that brought an end to Hamas’s 50 day war against Israel in 2014. The PLO’s international delegations represented Hamas’s positions in forums like the UN.
The PA/Fatah was apparently blindsided by the current round of ceasefire discussions. In these discussions, being carried out indirectly with Israel through several different mediators, Hamas is not using the PA to represent it. And this makes sense.
To show his frustration with Hamas’s refusal to cede control over Gaza to the PA in any significant way, in April 2017, Abbas stopped paying Hamas’s electricity bills. He also stopped transferring money for salaries to the Hamas regime in April 2018. Given the acrimony between the two sides, it is little wonder that Hamas, uninterested in ceding its power, decided to represent itself in its ceasefire negotiations.
Abbas stubbornly refuses to accept his growing irrelevance. Rather than trying to maneuver himself into a senior negotiating role, Abbas has boycotted the talks. He has soured his relations with the Sisi regime in Egypt, by — among other things — refusing to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, who is overseeing ceasefire negotiations with Hamas.
Until a few weeks ago, Sisi was Abbas’s strongest supporter. He accepted Abbas’s demand that Fatah reassert its control over Gaza in any ceasefire deal. But Abbas’s recalcitrance and contempt for Sisi’s regime have brought relations to a low point. Sisi, like Israel, believes it is more urgent to prevent another war than empower the feckless Fatah leader.
Abbas’s behavior has also won him the contempt of several PLO factions. While Fatah boycotts the Cairo talks, almost every other PLO faction is participating in them. The participation of the likes of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) in the talks shows that Abbas’s long-held plan to incorporate Hamas into the PLO has been turned on its head. The PLO is joining Hamas.
And this brings us to the main reality that the current ceasefire talks expose.
Since Hamas took over Gaza 11 years ago, the U.S., Egypt, and Israel have believed to varying degrees that Gaza is a sideshow. The main story is Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
Like all previous U.S. peace proposals, Trump’s “deal of the century” is reportedly focused on Judea and Samaria and the PA, not on Gaza and Hamas.
But the ceasefire discussions have shown that Gaza and Hamas are the only game in town.
Since Israel removed all of its civilians and military forces from Gaza in 2005 and abandoned the area, Gaza has been an entirely independent Palestinian territory. It has international borders with Israel and Egypt. It has a population it controls. It is a Palestinian state in everything but name. On the other hand, in Judea and Samaria, there is a Palestinian autonomy inside a larger area controlled by Israel.
As Abbas said in a speech Saturday panning the ceasefire talks, “There is no state in Gaza and an autonomy in the West Bank, and we will not accept this. We will never accept the separation of Gaza [from the West Bank].”
What Abbas left out was that the reason the Palestinians do not have a state in Judea and Samaria is because the PA/Fatah, under both Arafat and Abbas, rejected multiple Israel and U.S offers of statehood. There is no Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria because the PLO/Fatah/PLO doesn’t want one.
Which brings us back to the Hamas state in Gaza.
Abbas also said, “Either we take responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza under one state, one regime, one law, and one weapons, or Hamas will take responsibility [for the West Bank].
The situation in Gaza proves that is a lie. The options aren’t Fatah or Hamas. They are Israel or Hamas.
In 2004, Israel decimated Hamas’s leadership in Gaza. The next year it walked away from Gaza, handing the area to the PA/Fatah lock, stock and barrel.
Rather than use the opportunity to build a state, the PA/Fatah militarized Gaza and orchestrated ever escalating mortar and rocket assaults against Israel. Gaza’s militarization and the open transfer of massive quantities of armaments to Gaza through the Egyptian border gave Hamas the ability to rebuild its forces — and, in less than two years, oust Fatah from power.
Like the PA, Hamas uses its control over Gaza not to build a state but to expand its ability to strike Israel. This it has achieved by, among other things, developing close relations with Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, serving as an arm of their foreign policies towards Israel, Egyptm and the wider Islamic world. Hamas has also developed close ties with the so-called “Islamic State” and affiliated al Qaeda organizations that operate in Gaza and Sinai. Like the PA, Hamas has used Europe’s hostility towards Israel, and the Islamic bloc’s control over UN agencies (including the UN General Assembly), to mask its crimes and blame Israel for its aggression against the Jewish state.
Despite Hamas’s failure to develop Gaza economically, and its use of Gaza’s civilian population as human shields behind which it builds its military capabilities and attacks Israel, the people of Gaza have maintained their support for the terror regime.
Far from pushing it out for failure to govern in any recognizable sense of the term, a majority of Gazans continue to support the jihadist group and to share its program of continuous warfare against Israel, with the aim of annihilating the Jewish state. Moreover, polling data show that if elections were held in Judea and Samaria, Hamas would win them.
All of this leads to one clear conclusion.
Hamas-ruled Gaza is what a Palestinian state looks like. It is what a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria would look like if any U.S. or other peace proposal that requires Israel to transfer control over the areas to the PA/Fatah is implemented.
The Palestinians – as a people – are not interested in establishing an independent state. They are committed to annihilating Israel. This is why all of their political factions are terror groups. That’s why one of Abbas’s possible successors is in prison for five counts of terrorist murder and the other has called for Israel to be wiped out with nuclear weapons.
This is why, in a bid to shore up popular support for Fatah, Abbas is calling for a renewal of terror attacks against Israel. And this is why Hamas, whose record is one unblemished by phony peace processes with Israel, is more respected and trusted by the Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria.
Last week, Trump’s top advisors on the Palestinian conflict with Israel, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman issued a statement on their much touted plan.
“No one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that’s the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved. Peace can only succeed if it is based on realities,” it read.
While it is true that peace can succeed only if it is based on reality, it is also true that there is no realistic prospect for peace. Hamas’s terror state in Gaza is the apotheosis of Palestinian aspirations. This is what the Palestinians seek to build in Judea and Samaria and, in due course, this is what they want all of Israel to become.
Under the circumstances, the Trump administration has a choice to make. Does it want Judea and Samaria to look like Gaza? Or does it want Judea and Samaria to look like Israel? The ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel are proof that there is no third option.
Abbas’s Responsibility for Gaza Crisis
By Bassam Tawil
- In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Mahmoud Abbas’s Foreign Ministry accused Israel of committing “crimes” against Palestinians civilians, especially in the Gaza Strip, and renewed the call for providing “international protection” for the Palestinians.
- This is the same Abbas whose sanctions have triggered the recent violence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. If anyone needs “international protection,” it is those protesters who are being targeted by Abbas’s security forces in the West Bank.
- Abbas is especially worried that the international community will be funding economic and humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip behind his back. He wants the money to be spent through his government. He wants to control every penny the international community earmarks for the welfare of his people.
- What exactly does Abbas want? He wants the people of the Gaza Strip to continue protesting so that he will be able to continue to demonize Israel.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is continuing to pursue a policy of double-dealing regarding the Gaza Strip.
On the one hand, President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership continue inciting against Israel by holding it solely responsible for the humanitarian and economic crisis in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Abbas and his Ramallah-based government continue to impose strict economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip.
Now, Abbas is bending over backwards to foil a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip. Abbas says he is worried that such a deal would pave the way for the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.
Although they have never seen the Trump plan, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah claim that it envisages the establishment of a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip. They also argue that the Trump plan seeks to transform the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from a political and national conflict into one that is related only to humanitarian and economic issues. Abbas says he fears that the humanitarian and economic aid that the international community is promising to the Gaza Strip, as part of a cease-fire deal, is aimed at extracting concessions from the Palestinians, especially on issues related to Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
Abbas also claims that any cease-fire agreement would solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He argues that the PLO, the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” is the only party authorized to sign an agreement with Israel.
ٍReminder: In March 2018, Abbas and his government decided to impose a series of punitive measures against his own people: the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The measures include, among other things, halting payments to thousands of civil servants and forcing thousands of others into early retirement. He also decided to stop paying Israel for the electricity it supplies to the Gaza Strip and limited the amount of medicine shipments to the coastal enclave.
Abbas has defended his sanctions against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by arguing that Hamas was refusing to hand control over the coastal Gaza enclave to his government in accordance with previous “reconciliation” agreements signed between his ruling Fatah faction and Hamas.
Subsequently, violent riots by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border — organized by Hamas and labelled as the “March of Return” — which began in March, reached their peak when arson kites and balloons were launched into Israel.
In other words, it is Abbas himself who bears full responsibility for the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Were it not for his sanctions, the Palestinian factions would not have waged the “March of Return” — the primary goal of which is to protest the deteriorating conditions inside the Gaza Strip, for which they blame Israel rather than their own leaders. The blood of the more than 150 Palestinians killed in the riots is on his hands alone.
Left: A Palestinian rioter behind a smokescreen from a burning tire, at the Gaza-Israel border fence, June 8, 2018. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images) Right: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
The violence of the past few months along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel could have been avoided had Abbas agreed to lift the sanctions he himself imposed on the two million residents of the Gaza Strip. He chose, however, to continue his measures so that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip would continue directing their anger towards Israel. Abbas has no headquarters or offices in the Gaza Strip where the Palestinians there can protest against him. So, he had nothing to worry about when he decided to punish his own people. He also had nothing to worry about regarding the international community because he knows that, as usual, it will blame only Israel for the crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Today, as Egypt, the United Nations and other parties scramble to reach a long-term cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, Abbas suddenly seems to be feeling uncomfortable. In the past few days, he and his senior officials in Ramallah have been inciting against the proposed cease-fire deal by claiming that it is part of an Israeli-American conspiracy to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and pave the way for the implementation of Trump’s unseen peace plan. Abbas is especially worried that the international community will be funding economic and humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip behind his back. He wants the money to be spent through his government. He wants to control every penny the international community earmarks for the welfare of his people.
Let us get to the nitty-gritty: Abbas is seeking to prolong the suffering of his people in the Gaza Strip so that he can keep deflecting the Palestinians’ rage and violence toward Israel. He also seems to be hoping that the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip might prompt the Palestinians living there to revolt against Hamas. While he has succeeded in his first goal — triggering a wave of protests against Israel — Abbas’s desire to see Palestinians rise against his rivals in Hamas has thus far been unsuccessful.
Instead of helping to resolve the crisis in the Gaza Strip, Abbas is continuing to pour oil on the fire by inciting against Israel and the US administration. In recent speeches before the PLO Central Council in Ramallah, Abbas has repeatedly denounced Israel and the US and accused them of conspiring against the Palestinians and of being “partners” in “crimes” against the Palestinians. He has also vowed to continue his boycott of the US administration because of its “bias” in favor of Israel.
It is not clear how a cease-fire in return for improving the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is linked to any Israeli-American conspiracy. Since when is economic and humanitarian aid considered a conspiracy against the Palestinians?
Abbas, like most Arab leaders, never cared about improving the living conditions of the Palestinians. They could easily have helped the Palestinians build a strong economy and proper state institutions. Instead, Abbas and these Arab leaders want to keep the Palestinians living in refugee camps and poverty so that they can continue extorting money from the world and putting all the blame on Israel. Arab leaders seem to care about only one thing: enriching their personal bank accounts and securing the future of their own sons and daughters.
How can he talk about Trump’s purported peace plan when neither he nor any Palestinian has ever seen it? How do he and his senior PLO official, Saeb Erekat, know that Trump’s purported plan is aimed at “liquidating” the Palestinian cause and national rights?
Equally disingenuous is that Abbas, who is responsible for the current wave of violence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, is now demanding that the international community, specifically the UN, provide “international protection” for the Palestinians against Israeli measures. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Abbas’s Foreign Ministry accused Israel of committing “crimes” against Palestinians civilians, especially in the Gaza Strip, and renewed the call to provide international protection” for the Palestinians.
This is the same Abbas whose sanctions are depriving cancer patients of chemotherapy medicine in the Gaza Strip.
This is the same Abbas whose sanctions have deprived thousands of civil servants of their salaries in the Gaza Strip.
This is the same Abbas whose sanctions have triggered the recent violence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Abbas is calling for “international protection” for the Palestinians while he is doing everything he can to wreak havoc on his people in the Gaza Strip. He does not want a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel; he does not want to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip, and he does not want the international community directly to fund economic and humanitarian projects that would improve the living conditions of his people. So what exactly does Abbas want? He wants the people of the Gaza Strip to continue protesting so that he will be able to continue to demonize Israel.
Worse, Abbas does not want his people to raise their voice against his sanctions. Palestinians who have been protesting against his punitive measures in the West Bank have been repeatedly beaten by Abbas’s police forces. Just last week, Abbas’s security officers broke up a peaceful protest in Ramallah against his sanctions.
Abbas is fine with protests as long as they call for bringing down Israel or the US. But Palestinians who dare to criticize his policies often find themselves subjected to various forms of punishment, including detention and beatings.
Abbas’s crackdown on protests against his sanctions are yet another sign of his policy of double standards regarding the Gaza Strip. If anyone needs “international protection,” it is those protesters who are being targeted by Abbas’s security forces in the West Bank. Abbas’s actions and words have shown that the well-being of his people is the very last thing on his mind.
Abbas has one strategy: to incite his people against Israel and the US. He is prepared to fight against Israel and the US to the last Palestinian. It is a battle he is waging at the cost of cancer patients and needy families. For him, a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip is a bad thing because it could bring calm and deprive him of his ability to whip up hatred against Israel and the US.
The question remains: Will the international community allow Abbas to continue playing his dirty game at the expense of his people or will it wake up and realize that Abbas is part of the problem, not part of the solution? The best way of employing pressure on Abbas is by making it clear to him that as long as he continues with his policies, including the incitement against Israel and the US, the international community will not fund his government.
On Israel’s Nation-State Law
- Israel is being wrongly condemned for something that not one Muslim state has ever been condemned for: identifying its nationality with its religion — and in the case of those Muslim states, this is done frequently in a manner that excludes or restricts the rights, or even the very existence, of minorities.
- In Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, only Muslims are allowed to be citizens. In both those countries, the open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden — even Christianity and Judaism, which are supposedly accepted by Islam. In Israel, members of all religions and ethnic groups are full citizens.
On July 19, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted into law the Nation-State Bill. As Israel has never had a constitution, the bill became the latest iteration of the country’s Basic Laws, in the form of Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. To many, this seemed like stating the obvious. Had not Israel been created in the first place for that very purpose? The only question was, “Why had it taken 70 years to turn the obvious into law?” Well, perhaps not the only question. The next one was “Why did 55 Knesset members vote against it, with two abstentions, with a narrow majority of 62 in favour?”
Once word got out to the outside world that the Israeli parliament had dared to enact such a definition of their state, it was, for many, as if the end of the world had taken place. As if they had never known that, since the time of the Bible, the land now called Israel was home to the Jews.
Just about everybody went out to condemn the bill as racist, discriminatory, anti-democratic, and opposed to Jewish principles of egalitarianism with non-Jewish citizens. NBC News ran a headline stating: “Israel ‘nation-state’ law prompts criticism around the world, including from U.S. Jewish groups”. On the very day the bill was passed, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, claimed that:
“We’ve been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution, we believe it is the only way forward and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided.”
She did not say why Israel’s being a Jewish state with equal rights for non-Jews would interfere with a future two-state solution. Rejection of such a solution has always come from the Arab and Palestinian side, never the mainstream Jewish side. Instead, Mogherini planned a meeting for September 4 with Israeli Arab lawmakers — these being another group vociferously opposed to the new law. She does not appear to have invited any Jewish lawmakers to an equivalent meeting.
The European Union, a supra-national conglomeration that has done much good in advancing the rights of individual nation-states that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union as a means to preserving peace on the continent of Europe, has for many years taken an anti-Israel position that serves only to encourage Palestinians who launch wars and terrorist attacks precisely to prevent a two-state solution, all the while demanding the right to abolish Israel and create an exclusive Palestinian state “from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea”, a call for massive ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Opposition to the nation-state law was also strongly expressed by Israeli Arabs, Israeli Druze, and many Israeli and American Jews, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews — in clear defiance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, even though, for example, the United Kingdom officially exists as an Anglican state, without mistreating, at least officially, any of its minorities.
In Israel, artists, authors and purported intellectuals called for the cancellation of the law. Sometimes, the language used to describe the law passed the bounds of common decency. British Jewish socialist David Rosenberg, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, spoke in vile terms about three Jewish UK Labour Party MPs before slurring Israel’s new law:
“If [Margaret] Hodge and her sisters in struggle, [Ruth] Smeeth and [Juliana] Berger, were not craven opportunists and selective anti-racists and defenders of human rights, they might have been speaking out more, or even at all, about the disgusting and openly racist nation state bill that the Israeli government has just approved…”
One Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, Zouheir Bahloul, resigned, predicting that other Arab MKs would follow suit. He claimed falsely that the law discriminated against non-Jewish minorities. On August 4, many Israelis, organized by Druze leaders, gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest the law. It later emerged, however, that the rally was paid for and directed by the left-wing Anu group, a grantee of the New Israel Fund. According to Breitbart Jerusalem:
Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, issued a divisive statement calling the legislation “tribalism at its worst,” a “slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and a “danger to Israel’s future.”
In other words, anti-Zionists tried to weaponize the new law to promote their existing agendas.
By contrast, in Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, only Muslims are allowed to be citizens. In both those countries, the open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden — even Christianity and Judaism, which are supposedly accepted by Islam. In Israel, members of all religions and ethnic groups are full citizens.
In Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, only Muslims are allowed to be citizens. In both those countries, the open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden. Pictured: Road signs in Saudi Arabia, designating the road to Mecca as for “Muslims Only.” (Image source: Peter Dowley/Wikimedia Commons)
There is no doubt, however, that this simple law does not change anything for anyone.It probably should not be a surprise that many Arab and European leaders used the passage of the law as an excuse to further their anti-Zionist agenda, but the opposition of Israel’s Druze community, always the most loyal to the state, with a long and admirable role in the Israeli armed forces, as well as the anger of so many Jews both in Israel and abroad, came as something of a shock.
On August 8, during a special Knesset debate on the law, Zionist Union party activists, led by a former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, attacked the government, called for fresh elections, and “said the opposition would pass the Declaration of Independence as a basic law in lieu of the nation-state law.” Whatever the problems abroad, there is little doubt that the decision to make Jewish identity a core part of Israeli law has intensified political divisions at a time when unity of purpose is essential for a country that still faces existential threats on several fronts.
Readers should consult the full text of the law in order to reach their own conclusions. But it may help to consider one or two key clauses from it as a starting point for our understanding of it. In reality, the only contentious clauses are those in Article 1:
A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
Surely we knew all this already. The passage of the law was done simply to give a firm legal basis for the creation of Israel in 1948 following the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Its preamble states clearly that:
Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. [Author’s emphasis.]
As for “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, does not Israel’s Declaration of Independence (May 14, 1948) clearly state that the State of Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions”, and has not Israel done exactly that, as the Druze, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is and other minorities, can attest?
Why, then, do so many around the world claim that reinforcing the fact that Israel is a Jewish state will harm the lives of its non-Jewish inhabitants? In Iran, for instance, the large Baha’i minority suffers massive persecution, including imprisonment, execution, and much more, while in Israel, they have their international governing body and their holiest shrines, and bring in pilgrims from round the world.
Accusations levelled against the new law often include outright falsehoods. Daniel Pomerantz of Honest Reporting has identified a series of, shall we diplomatically call, “myths” about the law published by the New York Times, including that “Israel is a country where Jews enjoy rights that others don’t have” and “a state in which Judaism is the only national expression permissible by law will, by definition, reject any minority member who wishes to be part of it”. Of course, Judaism is not “the only national expression permissible by law” and more than in England the Anglican religion is. Additionally, go tell that to any of the religious and ethnic minorities who live unmolested in Israel, who serve in parliament, in the judicial system, in universities and across all sectors.
Those false accusations against Israel, however, draw attention to something else that has been grievously neglected in this debate: Israel is being wrongly condemned for something that not one Muslim state has ever been condemned for: identifying its nationality with its religion — and in the case of those Muslim states, this is done frequently in a manner that excludes or restricts the rights, or even the very existence, of minorities.
There are currently four countries that officially identify as Islamic Republics: Iran, Pakistan, Mauritania, and Afghanistan. There have been four others, some very short-lived, in the past: the Comoros (1978-2000), the East Turkestan (1933), the Gambia (2015-2017), and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (1996-2000). All four of the current Islamic republics are dangerous places for non-Muslims to live, with laws against apostasy, against blasphemy (freedom of expression), and, in the case of Mauritania, prevalent slavery, all of which contradict international human rights standards. In those republics, as well as in monarchies with Islam as the official religion (such as Saudi Arabia), the persecution of heretical Muslims, Christians and Baha’is and others, is — in direct contrast to Israel — commonplace. The use of shari’a law to enforce human rights abuses banned under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clamps down heavily on the lives of women, freethinkers, secularists, and all non-Muslims. Where capital punishments are carried out for non-criminal offences such as heresy, blasphemy and “sorcery“, or floggings and stonings-to-death are imposed for moral infringements such as alleged sex outside marriage, including having been raped, there is a huge imbalance between Western democracies and many Muslim states.
In Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, only Muslims are allowed to be citizens. In both, the open practice of any other religion, even those (Christianity and Judaism) that are accepted by Islam, is forbidden. In Israel, members of all other religions and ethnic groups are full citizens, who may vote, serve as lawmakers and judges, and more, worship in protected holy places.
It is important to add that few Muslim states are democracies in the full sense. Several are outright monarchies or emirates: Morocco, Jordan, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait (an emirate where there is an elected parliament, but political parties are illegal), Qatar, Oman, and the 7-emirate United Arab Emirates. In the modern period, others have been or still are dictatorships: Syria, Iran (a theocracy, formerly a monarchy), Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan under Zia-ul Haq. It is only fair to state that the three most populous Muslim-majority nations (Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) are all democracies, and that some others are democracies, yet often threatened by coups d’état or growing Islamisation. Lebanon, which was a decent democracy, is now controlled by Hizbullah. Turkey, the first Muslim secular democracy, is run today by Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently acquired massive powers.
Furthermore, Islam is the official religion of many states: Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Nigeria, the Maldives, Brunei, and Malaysia. Article 4 of the 2003 Amended Basic Law of the Palestinian National Authority reads:
1. Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect for the sanctity of all other divine religions shall be maintained.
2. The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation.
3. Arabic shall be the official language.
It is worth noting a couple of things here. By “all other divine religions”, the law means only Judaism and Christianity, which are the only faiths recognized in the Qur’an as divinely-revealed (though corrupted) beliefs. Israel does not impose such limitations on other religions. The elevation of shari’a religious law to a “principal source of legislation” can rule out democratic laws that contradict Islamic punishments for offences such as homosexuality, adultery, or blasphemy.
Israel, though a Jewish state, does not have an official religion — not even Judaism. As such, it imposes no religious conformity on any of its citizens. There are secular Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Muslims who become agnostics or atheists, even those who openly leave Islam or convert to another religion, are far safer in Israel than in any Muslim country. Israeli laws — for all of its citizens — are made by members of the Knesset; there, the laws are debated openly and given force by an independent judiciary, just as laws are in other genuinely democratic countries such as the USA or the UK.
Finally, one crucial question remains. Several people, including many patriotic Israelis such as Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party, the current leader of the opposition in the Knesset, or the Likud’s MK Benny Begin, have expressed the view that the law should have included the phrases “full equality of rights for all its citizens” and “Jewish and democratic state”, which might have reassured the non-Jewish population. The government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insists that it was not necessary to do this, given the presence of such affirmations in the Declaration of Independence and other Basic Laws. There are strong arguments for and against repeating it yet again, but for the moment, that debate and others related to it remain deeply divisive. Might it not be wise to consider another Basic Law in which the issue of full equality and democracy may be made even more explicit than they already are? That is for the Israeli people to decide.
Denis MacEoin holds a PhD in Persian Studies (Cambridge, 1979) and taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University in the UK. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
 See Nazila Ghanea, Human Rights, the U.N. and the Baha’is in Iran, Oxford, 2003.
 For a detailed study of the clash between shari’a-based “human rights” legislation and universal values, see Ann Elizabeth Meyer, Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics, 5th. Ed., New York, Abingdon, 2013; see also, Anver Emon, Mark S. Ellis, and Benjamin Glahn, Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law, Oxford University Press, 2015.