Nature of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Political or Religious?

Horizon Center held a Webinar on June 22, 2020, hosting senior Religious Affairs Advisor to President Abbas Dr. Mahmoud al-Habash and Assistant Secretary-General to the Arab League and former PA Minister Dr. Said Abu Ali with the participation of at least two dozen of activists, including academics, professional lawyers, and young political activists.

The discussion focused on the nature of the Israeli -Palestinian conflict in light of the recent developments including the possible Israeli annexation of major parts of the West Bank.  The virtual workshop was concluded with a policy recommendation that the Palestinian leadership and people must emphasize that the conflict with Israel is political strife against occupation and colonialism and as not a religious conflict between Islam and Judaism.

Dr. al-Habash stressed in his presentation that the Islamic doctrine necessitates all Muslims to believe in previous faiths including Judaism and Christianity. He intoned that “No Muslim is to disbelieve in the faiths and teachings of other divine religions or otherwise, they shall not be considered Muslims.” When it comes to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, he said that the main struggle here is all about a colonial power striving to acquire lands occupied by force. He said there are religious aspects of this conflict. He explained that the roots of the conflict between Zionists and Palestinians have been about the occupation and creation of one state while denying the other people’s right to independence and sovereignty in their homeland. He noted that Jews used to live in Palestine before the 1948 war, and over decades, they were living in harmony with fellow Muslim and Christian Palestinians. The historic injustice which befell the Palestinian people by creating one state and completely denying the Palestinians of building their own state has fueled the conflict until present times.

Dr. al-Habash also stated that moving toward a peaceful resolution requires an end of the Israeli occupation which began in 1967 and the creation of a Palestinian state on 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. He stressed that employing the religious aspects and differences between the two peoples will lead to an endless conflict that will not spare a room for peace and reconciliation.

Other speakers stressed however that while they agree with the recommendation that the conflict with Israel is a political and not religious one, far-right Israeli activists call for the destruction of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque to rebuild the Jewish Temple in its place. The speakers also noted the religious value of Palestine including Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in the hearts and minds of more than 1.4 billion Muslims around the world. The speakers however warned against sliding into a religious conflict with Israel over such claims that would trigger a worldwide confrontation between Jews and Muslims who embrace East Jerusalem and the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque as part of Islamic faith and doctrine.

The virtual workshop was concluded with a policy recommendation of indoctrinating young Palestinian generations through educational, political, and cultural activities towards embracing the political perspective on the conflict with Israel. And to embrace popular resistance and employ international law to support and attain the Palestinian right to self-determination and independence.

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