Presidential candidates since Bill Clinton have promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but not one has kept the promise once he took office. All indications are that when he moves into the White House, Donald Trump will keep his pledge and move the embassy to Israel’s capital city. But the “moderate peace partners” of the Palestinian Authority are threatening to react with violence if Trump makes good on his promise. The question is will their threats stop Trump from making the move?
The PA’s supreme sharia judge and President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisor on religious affairs, Mahmoud al-Habbash, declared on during Friday prayers that a move of the embassy would be considered “a declaration of war” on all Muslims. His sermon was broadcast live on Palestinian TV with Abbas in the audience.
According to the translation published by Palestinian Media Watch, al-Habbash said moving the embassy to Jerusalem “harms” Muslim faith, then threatened:
The new American administration intends to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem. In a simple, calm, and rational manner, in clear words that need no explanation and which are unambiguous: Such a step, for every Muslim, is a declaration of war on all Muslims. It’s a declaration of war on all Muslims. We are no one’s enemies, and we do not want to be. We are not enemies of the US and we do not want to be. However, when something harms our faith and our existence, we cannot stand by and do nothing. We will not agree to this under any circumstances. This will not pass in silence…. The entire Muslim world will not accept it, and the entire Christian world will not accept it. Occupied Jerusalem is our eternal capital, the capital of our existence and the capital of our state. In politics there can be compromises here and there…. In politics there can be negotiation. However, in matters of religion, faith, values, ethics, and history, there can be no compromises. Therefore, it isn’t possible to compromise on or negotiate over Jerusalem. This of course does not mean that we will prevent anyone from considering Jerusalem their direction of prayer. Our Jerusalem will remain open to all believers as it has been. Open to all of the monotheists.
From the sound of it. al-Habbash isn’t a big believer in the Qur’an, which refers to the existence of both temples in verse 17:7. In this passage, the Qur’an deals with God’s punishment of the children of Israel for their transgressions:
(We permitted your enemies)
To disfigure your faces,
And to enter your Temple
As they had entered it before,
And to visit with destruction
All that fell into their power.
The word translated as “Temple” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (and by the influential translator Marmaduke Pickthall before him) is masjid. This word, which is usually translated as mosque, has the meaning of a sanctuary wherever it appears in a pre-Islamic context. The usual Muslim exegesis of this verse (including that of Abdullah Yusuf Ali) holds that it refers to the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
Muslim tradition is especially adamant about the existence of the First Temple, built by Solomon, who appears in the Qur’an as a prophet and a paragon of wisdom. Verse 34:13 is an account of how Solomon summoned jinn (spirits) to build the Temple:
They worked for him
As he desired, (making) Arches,
As large as wells,
And (cooking) Cauldrons fixed
(In their places)
Al-Habbash isn’t the only PA leader who is making threats about the U.S. Embassy move. Palestinian Media Watch also reported:
- Abbas’s advisor on NGOs, Sultan Abu al-Einein declared, “Transferring the American embassy to Jerusalem will lead to bloodshed.”
- Head of the Supreme Muslim Council and head preacher at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, said, “What this means is that America recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the Jews, and in doing so America will declare a new war against the Palestinians and also against the Arabs and the Muslims.”
- Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, threatened, “If you transfer the embassy and agree to the annexation of the settlements in the West Bank, you will drag the region into a state of anarchy, extremism, and lawlessness.”
- The spokesman for Abbas’s Fatah Party, Osama al-Qawasmi, warned, “Any step regarding transferring the American embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem will directly cause an explosion”
These threats may represent the first test of Donald Trump’s resolve in foreign affairs. Will the Palestinian Authority attempts to blackmail his administration deter his plans to move the embassy?
By way of answer, I would submit that Trump is not the type to be intimidated, especially when one considers his campaign positions. This is the man who has been promising to stand up to China and to force Mexico to pay for the border wall. Trump criticized Barack Obama for not standing up to foreign threats and making the U.S. appear weak. If Trump was honest in his criticism of Obama’s feckless foreign policy, and I believe he was, he will not allow the threat of terrorism by the PA to dictate his foreign policy decisions.
Whether their incitement leads to violence, the Palestinians should be very careful about trying to bully a U.S. president who can’t be bullied. They may be pushing Congress and the president to re-think all that foreign aid the PA leadership is using to line its own pockets.
Cross-posted at The Lid