A Saudi Scholar Lays the Religious Groundwork for Normalization with Israel

July 13 2022

Since the conclusion of the Abraham Accords, there has been speculation that Saudi Arabia—which went to war with the nascent Jewish state in 1948 and since then has not made peace—will be the next Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. Y. Yehoshua explains a significant step in the kingdom’s internal discussion of the issue:

Saudi Arabia—which is essentially a religious state and regards itself as the leader of the Islamic world—will find it difficult to form official relations with Israel without first establishing the legitimacy of this move from the perspective of the sharia (Islamic law). Moreover, the Abraham Accords, signed with the kingdom’s acquiescence, have already sparked a discussion about the religious legitimacy of normalization. As part of this debate, clerics opposed to the accords stated that normalization with Israel is an act of treason against Allah and against the Prophet Mohammad who fought the Jews.

Should Saudi Arabia decide to raise the level of diplomatic representation with Israel, it will need the religious establishment to back this move and provide jurisprudential sanction for it. . . . An unusual and recent article on the religious legitimacy of diplomatic relations with Israel . . . appeared in the Saudi state daily Al-Jazirah on June 20, 2022. The article, titled “The Fiqh [Jurisprudence] Regarding al-siyasa al-shar’iyya (Sharia-Based Policy) and the State of Israel,” is by Dr. Khalid bin Mohammad al-Yousuf, a senior lecturer on international law at the Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and the secretary-general of the university’s Supreme Council.

He argues that, in the modern era, there has been a significant change in the perception of the state and in the rules of the game in international relations. According to the new rules, he says, Israel is an existing reality just like any other world country, and a member of the UN. Therefore, it must be treated according to the accepted norms of the international community. Al-Yousuf calls on Saudi clerics to reexamine the sphere of international relations and formulate a new religious perception of [the subject], compatible with these new norms, that will enable the ruler of an Islamic state to employ independent judgement and form ties with Israel if he deems this to be in the interest of his country. He emphasizes that normalization with Israel will allow many Muslims to come and pray in Jerusalem and “rebuild it,” which cannot be done without maintaining ties with Israel.

The article is apparently aimed at providing jurisprudential sanction to a political move of maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel while preserving Saudi Arabia’s religious and theocratic credibility and even bolstering the religious legitimacy of its regime.

At the link below, Yehoshua translates and explicates the article.

Read more at MEMRI

More about: Abraham Accords, Islam, Saudi Arabia

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds