Here’s a novel idea to resolve Israel’s increasingly painful political impasse.
The crux of the problem lies in the fact that one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s potential coalition partners, the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) headed by Bezalel Smotrich, refuses to support him should Netanyahu rely in any way on the Islamist Ra’am party to reach a majority of 61 in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Yet without both the RZP and Ra’am in his coalition, Netanyahu cannot reach 61 seats. Thus the impasse.
So far, Smotrich’s rejection of Ra’am has been absolute and unconditional, based on the fact that Ra’am rejects the very existence of the Jewish state of Israel. To quote from its 2018 charter, the party calls Zionism a “racist, occupying project,” rejects allegiance to the Jewish state, and demands a right of return for Palestine refugees. Reasonably enough, Smotrich fears that legitimizing Ra’am in any way will lead to a host of dire consequences for Israel. He stands resolutely on this point.
Fine. But it would be more productive if Smotrich and the RZP set out the conditions under which they accept Ra’am support. What would it need to amend in its charter? How would Ra’am’s leader Mansour Abbas have to talk to his constituents in Arabic about Israel? Implicitly assuming such a change to be out of the question, RZP until now has not even raised the idea – reasonably enough, as presumably no Islamists anywhere in the world, much less among the Palestinians, recognize Israel.
But, in fact, the basis does exist for such a recognition. It exists not in the turmoil of current politics but in the founding scripture of the Islamic faith, the seventh-century Koran. Believe it or not, but the Koran is a proto-Zionist document, with verses that endorse the Jewish presence in what it calls the Holy Land (al-ard al-muqaddasa), the territory that roughly makes up the modern state of Israel.
For example, Koran 5:20-21 quotes Moses saying to the Jews, “O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God [Allah] has ordained for you to enter.” Likewise, Koran 7:137 states that “We made those who were persecuted successors of the eastern and western lands [of the Jordan River], lands which We had blessed. In this way, your Lord’s fair word was fulfilled for the Children of Israel.” Other Koranic verses (2:40, 7:159-60, 17:100-04) confirm this theme, as do Hadith reports and leading Koranic scholars of the premodern era.
(And note that the Koran refers to Jews as the “Children of Israel.”)
Deep research into this issue has been carried out by such scholars as Nissim Dana of Ariel University, author of the 2013 book in Hebrew, To Whom Does This Land Belong? Reexamination of the Koran and Classical Islamic Sources on the People of Israel, Its Teachings, and Its Connection to Jerusalem. On the Islamic side, Muhammad Al-Hussaini formerly of Leo Baeck College, Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University, and Mohammad Tawhidi of the Islamic Association of South Australia have led the way in making the case. In Khaleel Mohammed’s words, “It’s in the Muslim consciousness that the land first belonged to the Jews.” Another Muslim thinker, Abdul Hadi Palazzi, comes right out and states that “Allah Is a Zionist.”
The RZP might consider proposing to Ra’am that it will accept Ra’am’s support for a coalition government if Ra’am aligns itself with these fundamentals of the Islamic faith. To avoid ambiguity, RZP should list its conditions in great detail and with exacting precision.
I am under no illusion that Ra’am would jump at this offer, but it is well worth a try, and for two reasons. First, Mansour Abbas has shown an unprecedented pragmatism and flexibility, raising the prospect that Ra’am just possibly could accept RZP’s terms, leading to a government being formed and to an immeasurable and historic increase in Ra’am’s stature. Second, even if Ra’am declines the opportunity, such a public challenge by Smotrich to Abbas would finally introduce the Koran’s largely unknown proto-Zionist outlook into wide general discussion in Israel and beyond, a beneficial step for Jews and Muslims alike.
Although I have argued that Benjamin Netanyahu should be Israel’s next president, not its next prime minister, the positive implications of Israeli Muslims recognizing the Jewish state overrides such a politics-as-usual issue.
In short, only good can come from this innovative step toward Israel Victory.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum