Abbas’ Dangerous Religious War Gambit

This morning, I had the privilege of praying at Judaism’s holiest site-the Western Wall on our holiest day, Yom Kippur. I wore my white prayer shawl, white kittel robe, and white yarmulke. It felt like a local call to heaven. Prayers for family, for good health, for friends in need, and recurring prayers for the ultimate blessing — peace.

It took three minutes and 100 feet from the Kotel plaza to be reminded how distant peace in the Holy Land remains. There, as I turned into the Arab suk, was a committee of young Muslim women and one man. Armed with iPhones, they were clearly hoping to instigate a phony selfie moment with Israeli police so it could be immediately go viral on countless pre-cooked hateIsrael hashtags. This on the day that coincided with the Feast of Eid al-Adha (recalling the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. Jews believe he chose Isaac; Muslims believe our Patriarch chose Ishmael).

The well-trained young Israeli police didn’t bite, so I was quickly selected for an edgy chorus of “Allah Akbar.” I too believe that “G-d is Great,” but this wasn’t an ecumenical moment. The hate in their eyes not only defiled my spiritual moment, it was part of a carefully-orchestrated campaign by the Palestinian leadership to mix sticks and stones and (religious) words to heat up a third Intifada.

Beyond the nexus of the two religious holidays, the intensifying violence, physical and verbal, coincide with two pivotal events at the UN: the symbolic hoisting of a Palestinian flag outside UN headquarters next week and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ appearance later this month at the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly. Now in the eleventh year of his 4-year term, some expect Abbas to use that speech to vacate some or all of the historic Oslo Accords with Israel.

Whether Abbas risks losing US funding with such a draconian move, he’s already thrown the two-state solution under the bus with moves like this recent screed about Jews on the eve of the Jewish New Year:

“Al-Aqsa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.”

Why now?

Abbas is signaling Jerusalem and Washington that he no longer cares to do any heavy lifting set forth by the Oslo Accords when a bullet-proof majority at the UN General Assembly could get him his state without US support or Israeli approval.

Secondly, Abbas hopes that playing bad boy with Israelis will win him back some of the Palestinian Street, so disgusted by his Palestinian Authority’s corruption, polls show Hamas would win hands down in the West Bank, if he dared call new elections.

There’s one other critical audience Abbas is desperate to bring onside: The Muslim world.

A few years ago, I brought seven Indonesians representing 60 million Muslims to Israel. At the end of the week, here’s what the leader said:

“We were always told that there is a religious war here. But this week we prayed at Al-Aqsa, visited your Western Wall, and even danced at a Chanukah party. We also spent a day in Ramallah. What we see is a political, not a religious dispute. Political? We have plenty political fights back home.”

With an Arab world imploding — only images of a religious war with Jews can force Abbas’ agenda to become theirs.

For now, we can only pray for G-d’s mercy that Abbas’ gambit fails.

About the Author
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Associate Dean and Global Director of its Ed Snider Social Action Institute