A Prominent Muslim Cleric Joined the Pope in Embracing Religious Tolerance. His Arabic Statements Suggest Something Else

Feb. 13 2019

During his historic visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Pope Francis signed a joint statement with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb, who, by dint of his position as the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University, is widely considered Sunni Islam’s leading religious authority. The document strongly condemns religious coercion and religiously motivated violence, while praising freedom of conscience and tolerance. Yet Tayyeb, much like Mahmoud Abbas and Yasir Arafat before him, seems to espouse very different views when speaking in Arabic, as Raymond Ibrahim writes:

Tayeb . . . is on record as saying that apostates—that is, anyone born to a Muslim father who wishes to leave Islam—should be punished. As to the penalty they deserve, in July 2016, during one of his televised programs, Tayeb reaffirmed that “those learned in Islamic law [al-fuqaha] and the imams of the four schools of jurisprudence consider apostasy a crime and agree that the apostate must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.” . . .

[Moreover, the] document Tayeb cosigned with Pope Francis . . . says “we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility, and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.” [But] political commentators in Egypt have noted that, despite al-Azhar’s harsh attitude concerning “infidels” and “apostates,” when asked to denounce Islamic State as “un-Islamic,” al-Tayeb refused. . . .

Tayeb’s response to [his Egyptian] critics has been to accuse Israel. During a March 2018 interview on Egyptian television, he said, “All those mouthpieces that croak—out of ignorance or because they were told to—that the al-Azhar curricula are the cause of terrorism never talk about Israel, about Israel’s prisons, about the genocides perpetrated by the Zionist entity state . . . If not for the abuse of the region by means of the Zionist entity, there would never have been any problem.” . . .

It is difficult, therefore, to see this document as anything more than a superficial show, presumably for the West.

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More about: Egypt, Islam, Moderate Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Pope Francis, Religion & Holidays

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank