The Palestinian Authority’s Religious Affairs Minister, Mahmoud al-Habash, insisted on Israel’s Channel 10 news that Jerusalem’s Western Wall needs to be under Palestinian control in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Al-Habash was careful to clarify that Jews would still be able to visit the Western Wall, though: “No problem,” he said. “There will be no restrictions on freedom of religion.”
Rather than entertain the idea that Israel relinquish control of her capital, we need to focus on al-Habash’s claim that the Palestinian Authority is committed to religious freedom. The fact that the Palestinian Authority’s Religious Affairs Minister needs to insert a qualifier that there would be no restriction on Jewish religious freedom is a frightening indication of the Palestinian Authority’s mindset towards Jewish religious practice. Why does the issue of unrestricted religious practice need to be clarified?
We cannot let ourselves fall victim to the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” We must hold the Palestinian Authority to the same standard to which we hold Israel and demand freedom of religion for all. Until now there is no indication that Jews will be allowed to practice their religion safely and freely in a future Palestinian state, contrary to al-Habash’s statement.
If a future peace agreement is in accordance with al-Habash’s demands and promises, how does the anti-semitic material regularly broadcast of Palestinian Authority TV help build a society ready to accept Jewish practice? How does a video in which Palestinian factions united to beat-up Jews help further facilitate acceptance of Jewish faith? How does a video encouraging children to take up arms against Israel lay the foundation for freedom of Jewish practice in a future Palestinian state?
Today under Israeli sovereignty it is illegal for Jews to practice their religion on Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. An Islamic Waqf controls the site and regulates religious practice- a Jew caught praying on the holy grounds will be removed and is subject to arrest. Are the Jews of Israel supposed to believe that they will be allowed to freely access the Western Wall, let alone pray, under the control of the Palestinian Authority?
Judaism should be practiced freely in a future Palestinian state, just as Islam is practiced freely in Israel. Jews, both Zionist and non-Zionist alike, should be able to live in their homes in a future Palestinian state without concern for the health and safety of their families. Families who feel a deep religious connection to Judea and Samaria should be allowed to live in the ancient Jewish homeland of “Greater Israel” regardless of whether or not modern day Israeli sovereignty encompasses the area.
Real peace is dependent on acceptance of religious practice. With religion so deeply embedded in the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, mutual religious respect is imperative for a potential peace agreement. We will see a real peace agreement the day that Arab leaders like Mahmoud al-Habash will not have to clarify that Jewish practice will be unrestricted in areas under Arab sovereignty.
Daniel Mael can be reached on Twitter at @DanielMael