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The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Israel's Relationship with Four Muslim Nations

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Israel recently signed agreements establishing relations with four Muslim nations: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Both good and bad news surround this development.

The bad news is bland and predictable: A permanent peace between Israel and its Muslim neighbors is, according to Islamic law, or Sharia, impossible. Any land that was once part of Dar al-Islam—that is, any land that was ever conquered by Muslims for any length of time—is always part of Islam and must be recovered by any means necessary—preferably jihad.

As it happens, the territory consisting of the modern state of Israel was conquered by Muslims in the year 637; from then until the creation of Israel in 1948—minus some two centuries of Crusader presence—it was part of the Muslim world.

To quote Dr. Ali al-Qaradaghi, a renowned Sharia expert and secretary-general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars: “There is a consensus among Muslims, in the past and present, that if an Islamic land is occupied, then its inhabitants must declare jihad until it is liberated from the occupiers.”

Hence the virulent animosity and terrorist machinations among Muslims for the Jewish state; hence the leaders of any Muslim nation that normalizes relationships with Israel provoke great anger among Muslims abroad and at home. (That Morocco has agreed to a “partial normalization has triggered outrage from some of Morocco’s neighbors and will likely upset many of its citizens; indeed, 88 percent of surveyed Moroccans said that they would oppose diplomatic recognition of Israel.”)

There is some good news, however, which may, in fact, overshadow the bad: Temporal circumstances have always factored in the application of sharia.  For example, Islamic law has always allowed for truces with Islam’s enemies—especially when Muslims find themselves in a weakened state.

This traces back to the prophet of Islam’s own behavior and is therefore sunna: When Muhammad was weak and outnumbered in his early Mecca period, he preached peace and made pacts with “infidels” (this is when all the “coexisting” verses of the Koran appeared, e.g., 2:256); when he traveled to Medina and became strong in that period, he preached war and went on the offensive (this is when all the militant verses appeared, e.g., 9:5, 9:29). This dichotomy—preach peace when weak, wage war when strong—has been instructive to Muslims for ages.

In short and like everyone else, Muslims—particularly their rulers—participate in realpolitik, defined as “politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises.”

The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco—and before them, Egypt and Jordon—established relations with what other Muslim nations see as the mortal enemy of Islam, precisely because it is in their best interest to do so. In exchange for establishing relations with Israel, for example, the United States agreed to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, lift sanctions and advance discussions on debt forgiveness. Similarly, Morocco received American recognition of its sovereignty over a long-disputed territory in the Western Sahara.

The lesson is clear: Those in a position of power can make their enemies compliant—and without resorting to force. But this is only when their physical power is accompanied by moral power—a commitment to one’s own position, one’s own good.

By way of analogy, consider the two neighboring nations of Poland and Germany. Both are militarily stronger than any one Muslim nation, yet one of them is greatly suffering from Islam. Whereas Poland has shut its doors to Muslim migration—thereby not even needing to rely on force—Germany has opened its doors to millions of Muslims. The result is that Poland witnesses no Muslim violence, rapes and terrorism, while Germany is plagued by them. Both are strong, but only one has the will to exercise this strength for its own welfare.

A final point of interest is how Muslim leaders rationalize their relationship with Israel to their followers. Revisiting what PLO leader Yasser Arafat once said is instructive. In 1994, after he made a peace treaty with Israel that was predictably criticized by fellow Arabs as offering too many concessions, the Palestinian leader justified his actions by saying, “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca”—that is, a truce that Muhammad abolished on a pretext once he was in a position of power and able to go on the offensive.

In other words, the official narrative among those Muslim and Arab nations that make peace or establish relations with Israel will likely be that the arrangement is temporary; that Israel remains the enemy; and that once circumstances are more opportune, the jihad will resume.

But why should that matter? So long as Israel maintains the upper hand—and has the will to survive—so, too, will its existential enemies be forced to comply, regardless of what their inner narrative is.

Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.