Archive for February 21, 2020

The history of nonaggression pacts in Islam

February 21, 2020

Does it matter that Muslim Arabs cannot sign a true peace agreement with Israel? Not as long as Israel recognizes it must remain militarily strong and resolute in defending its culture and borders.

The news media is filled with reports that the Arab world – most notably Saudi Arabia and countries in the Persian Gulf, might be prepared to sign a nonaggression pact with Israel. What does this mean, however, from a Muslim perspective?

For countries with strong institutions, agreements are not made between leaders. Meaning that such agreements continue to be valid even if the countries’ governments change.
This is not the case in the Middle East, where with the possible exception of Turkey, agreements are made between leaders, and last as long as those leaders are still in power.

Middle Eastern states are by their very nature authoritarian, even if they appear to have the trappings of democracy – like parliaments, government ministers, etc. If a leader dies or is overthrown, all bets are off. The new leader decides which agreements he will honor.

In essence, in these authoritarian states institutions are by their nature weak, because they are loyal and respond to the leader – not to the people. Regarding Middle Eastern leaders, the late professor Bernard Lewis used to say “the state is their estate.” Meaning that they understand their countries to be their fiefdoms, where they can do pretty much what they want.

In summary, in democratic societies, a “government official” means a person who represents the people vis-à-vis the government. The people empower their governments.

In the Middle East, the Arabic/Turkish/Persian word for government official/bureaucrat is “maamur” or “mu’azif” – which mean “one who is commanded.” But commanded by whom? Answer: Middle Eastern government officials don’t work for the people, they work for and represent the rulers – i.e. a top-down structure.

In Islam, peace as we know it in the West, meaning letting bygones be bygones, cannot exist between Muslims and non-Muslims. According to both the Koran and the Shari’a, there can however be a temporary agreement – a truce or armistice. Such a truce is called a “sulha” or “hudna.” These agreements are modeled after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, a 628 CE treaty between the Islamic prophet Mohammad and the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, who Mohammad was unable to defeat.

The agreement was to last 10 years, but after only two – when Mohammad had managed to rearm himself sufficiently – he reneged on the agreement, attacked his enemies, and defeated them.

This sulha/hudna agreement is the type of non-aggression pact the Saudis and other Arab Muslim nations seem to be willing to sign with Israel. It is now in their interest to do so because their existential enemy is Iran, an enemy which they share with Israel.

Any agreement they sign with the Israelis must be understood in these terms. These are not peace agreements; they remain in force only as long as the leaders of these Arab countries believe it in their interest.

What would happen, for example, if the Iranian regime collapsed and the new government in Iran no longer threatened the Sunni Arab regimes? Would Israel and these Arab countries still share common interests? Would these agreements still hold? Can Muslim leaders recognize Israel as a Jewish state with the right to live within borders on land once conquered by Muslims?

What does history teach us here?


At the 1949 Rhodes conference after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the Arabs insisted on calling their treaties with Israel “armistice agreements” – not peace agreements. They further insisted that the lines drawn on the map which divided Israeli-controlled territory from territory controlled by the Arabs be defined as “armistice lines” – not borders. Borders and peace agreements imply permanence and an end to war; the Arabs could not agree to either. From a Muslim-Arab perspective, all of pre-1948 Palestine was Muslim land. Thus, they could not agree to permanent borders or peace.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat, two weeks after he signed the Oslo agreements with Israel, was in South Africa speaking to Muslims. He was recorded telling them that the agreement he signed with Israel was like the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah their prophet had signed with his enemies the Quraysh. Everyone understood the reference and the meaning – Arafat would break the agreement as soon as it became possible to do so.


Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, upon returning to Egypt after signing an agreement with the Israelis on the White House lawn, told his people he had done what he did for the good of Egypt. Egypt needed its resources to build itself up, and must not waste them on battles Egypt was certain to lose, he said. Sadat ended his speech by saying: what will happen in the future will happen in the future – meaning, this was a temporary agreement until Egypt could regroup – which could last as long as needed. Even so, some in Egypt saw this as treachery, which is why they assassinated him.


In 2000, President Bill Clinton hosted then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat at a Camp David. The stated goal going into the summit was to come to an agreement which would end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Barak offered Arafat almost every square inch of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank if Arafat would sign a peace agreement with Israel. Arafat instantly rejected Barak’s offer, saying “that he [Arafat] would not have tea with Sadat.” Arafat knew that if he signed such an agreement, he too would be labeled a “traitor” and likely assassinated.

There are no permanent agreements between Muslims and non-Muslims, and certainly not over land that Muslims believe is theirs.

So, what does the above tell us about any possible nonaggression pacts between Israel and Arab countries? The Arab countries in question are all ruled by Sunni Muslims. All are authoritarian. All are in the same boat as the Arab leaders in the examples mentioned above. They cannot agree to permanent peace with Israel. Almost all Muslim scholars agree that once a territory is conquered by Muslims, it must remain under Muslim rule forever. Non-Muslims – i.e., Christians, Jews and others who received a revelation from God prior to Islam can live under Islamic rule, but do not have the right to rule any territory that has ever been conquered by Muslims.

Today’s Israel was conquered by Muslims in 637-38 CE, and thus according to Islam must be ruled by Muslims forever. The Saudis, Morocco and any other Arab Muslim countries therefore cannot sign permanent peace agreements with Israel. Neither, for that matter, can Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas’s charter explicitly calls all of pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine a Muslim waqf – which means it belongs to Allah forever.

No Muslim can recognize Israel’s permanent right to exist because it is a Jewish state, ruled by Jews, which contradicts Islam. Any Muslim that recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on Muslim land would be labeled a “traitor” and suffer the same fate as Sadat. So the best we could hope for is a temporary non-aggression pact between Israel and its Muslim neighbors.

Does it matter that the Muslim Arabs cannot sign a true peace agreement with Israel? As long as Israel recognizes that it must remain militarily strong and resolute in defending its culture and borders, it should be fine.

Nonaggression pacts or peace treaties notwithstanding, as long as the Muslims realize that Israel is here to stay and will defend itself at whatever cost, non-aggression pacts or truces will be fine. But no one should delude himself into believing that any agreement between the Arabs and Israel will ever be like the peaceful relationship between, say, the United States and Canada. That could only happen if there is a thought revolution in Islam, something that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Egypt builds a wall on border with Gaza Read

February 21, 2020

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdel Khalek, the Egyptian intelligence officer in charge of Cairo’s Palestinian portfolio, arrived in the Gaza Strip Feb. 10 as head of an Egyptian security delegation that made a field trip along the Egyptian-Gazan border as part of the new Egyptian preparations to boost border security and prevent extremists from entering the Sinai Peninsula from the Gaza Strip. The delegation also met with Hamas’ leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, tribal sources in the northern Sinai Peninsula stated that on Jan. 27 Egyptian armed forces embarked on the first phase of building a 2-kilometer-long barrier on the border with the Gaza Strip, starting from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Rafah border crossing. Such a step went unannounced by the Egyptian armed forces, the sources added.

They explained that the 6-meter-high barrier is made of reinforced concrete and goes 5 meters under the ground. It consists of a second barrier parallel to the old rock barrier built in early 2008 on the border with the Gaza Strip, separated by a distance not exceeding 10 meters. The barrier is designed to block the entry of gunmen from the Gaza Strip into Sinai and shut down the remaining Palestinian cross-border tunnels.

The sources said the second and last phase involves building the barrier along unspecified segments of the border that Egyptian armed forces appraise as vulnerable or where underground tunnels are suspected. The sources anticipate completion of the barrier would drag out until mid-2020.

Egyptian armed forces announced Feb. 3 “having found south of the Rafah security camps’ yard a nearly 3-kilometer-long [underground] tunnel coming from the Gaza Strip to the heart of the [Egyptian border city of] Rafah,” Palestine’s Maan News Agency reported the same day.

Maan News quoted Egyptian security sources as saying that “the tunnel serves as [an underground means] for the infiltration of terrorists from the Gaza Strip, planting [roadside bombs] in the Egyptian side, pushing terrorist [Islamic State] supporters to Sinai, and for the transfer of arms and explosives. Ammunition and explosives were seized in the tunnel.”

Egyptian armed forces announced having discovered the tunnel a few hours after five Egyptian soldiers were killed and others were wounded Feb. 3 in a roadside bomb south of the town of Sheikh Zuweid, which borders the Gaza Strip.

Previously, there were multiple Egyptian measures to close the Palestinian tunnels, including a buffer zone along the 14-kilometer-long Egyptian-Gazan border in October 2014. The 500-meter-deep buffer zone set up on the Egyptian side was expanded to 1,500 meters deep into the Egyptian side in October 2017.

Such an Egyptian policy managed to close and destroy hundreds of border underground tunnels and caused Hamas a stifling financial crisis that has been ongoing to date.

The recent developments on the border coincided with US President Donald Trump announcing Jan. 28 his Mideast peace plan, which assigns to the Palestinians new lands adjacent to Sinai in Israel.

Mohammed Abu Harbeed, an expert on security affairs at the Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “The construction of this barrier was highly coordinated with Hamas and the Gaza Interior Ministry. It is designed to bring about better security on [both] sides of the border.”

He explained that all of the security measures Egyptian authorities made, including building the barrier, serve the interests of both sides. Ending contraband, including the smuggling of drugs from Sinai to the Gaza Strip, and preventing the infiltration of extremists from and into the Gaza Strip are what Hamas seeks as well, Abu Harbeed added.

He did not find it strange that Egyptian armed forces discovered a Palestinian tunnel on the border with the Gaza Strip. “Prior to the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the tunnels in October 2014, there were hundreds of tunnels underneath the Egyptian-Palestinian border — some of which were wide enough for the smuggling of cars. Yet the number of tunnels has become small following the Egyptian crackdown. The [remaining] tunnels are unknown and are run by individuals who are smuggling goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip with the intent to evade customs duties or contraband such as drugs,” said Abu Harbeed.

He affirmed that the Gaza Interior Ministry does not see a need for these tunnels as long as Egypt opens the Rafah border crossing to Gazans, adding that the ministry is preventing any attempt to dig any new tunnels.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas took multiple measures to promote border security and prevent any infiltration attempt into Egypt. On June 28, 2017, it set up a 100-meter-wide buffer zone into the Palestinian side.

Iyad al-Qara, a political analyst and journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Felesteen newspaper in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that “in the past years, Hamas worked on boosting security on the border with Egypt, deploying dozens of its members and a series of observation towers and surveillance cameras mounted on the towers along the border to prevent infiltration attempts from the Gaza Strip into Egypt.”

The Gaza Interior Ministry announced Nov. 14 thwarting an infiltration attempt by three Islamic State supporters from Gaza to Egypt.

Qara perceived that the Egyptian and Palestinian sides agreed on the construction of the barrier at their meetings in early 2018, noting that the arrival of an Egyptian security delegation in the Gaza Strip to inspect the border at this time points to this agreement.

He indicated that Hamas in the Gaza Strip has great interest in securing the border with Egypt “because bringing about security in Sinai will be positively reflected on the Gazan security.”

Talal Okal, a political writer for the West Bank-based newspaper Al-Ayyam, told Al-Monitor that Hamas hears the Egyptian concerns about the infiltration of extremists from the Gaza Strip into Sinai. He said this is particularly true since such extremists do not find the Gaza Strip to be a favorable environment, given that Hamas opposes the presence of extremist organizations that have religious motives behind espousing conflicts.

Okal ruled out the possibility of a correlation between the construction of the barrier and the deal of the century. He said, “I do not think that the construction of this barrier has anything to do with the deal of the century in any way. It is a security, not a political, measure.”