It’s a sad reality of the Middle East that moderates have short life spans. In the summer of 1951, rumors began circulating that Lebanon and Jordan were discussing a joint peace deal with Israel. That July, both Jordan’s king, Abdullah I, and Lebanon’s former prime minister, Riad Bey al-Solh, were assassinated. In 1979, Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, became the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel. He was assassinated for this “treason” two years later. In 1982, Lebanon’s president-elect, Bashir Gemayel, began discussing peace with Israel. He was assassinated that year for “selling the country to Israel.” The list goes on.
Why did both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas turn down generous peace offers from Israel? The most benign explanation is that they both feared assassination for making concessions to Israel such as recognizing Jewish sovereignty over the land or giving up the Palestinian “right of return.”
There is more than enough evidence to demonstrate that Arab moderates are an endangered species and that their peril in turn imperils the entire peace process. We don’t need any further proof of this proposition. Yet the proof keeps coming. The most recent Arab moderate to be threatened is a man I recently had the pleasure of meeting: Sheikh Abu Kader al-Jabari of Hebron.
I first encountered Sheikh Jabari this August, when I traveled to Israel with Pastor John Hagee to participate in Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” events. Beck wanted his events to rise above religious divides and stress our shared humanity and dignity. Thus he invited Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to participate. Yet for the very reasons discussed above, many Muslim leaders were afraid to embrace the staunchly pro-Israel Beck. But one man did have the courage to speak out. Sheikh Jabari of Hebron sent a warm letter of support for “Restoring Courage.”
Before leaving Israel, Pastor Hagee and I met with Sheikh Jabari. We were joined by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, one of the most prominent rabbis in Israel. Seeing these three leaders of these three faiths sitting next to one another gave our gathering an historic feel. Yet what was most encouraging about the meeting was not the nature of their agreement. The fact is that these three men have fundamental disagreements on significant issues. Instead, what made the meeting important was the way in which they agreed to disagree. All three religious leaders stressed that violence and killing have no place in resolving differences over the future of the land.
We left Israel later that night. And Sheikh Jabari returned to Hebron and continued to speak out. In the week that followed, he criticized Abbas for seeking a unilateral declaration of statehood from the United Nations. He also reiterated that Jews have a right to live in Hebron — their second holiest city — alongside the Muslim majority.
But while Sheikh Jabari rejects violence as a tool of politics, his opponents do not. On September 10, Palestinian terrorists issued a fatwa against Sheikh Jabari. These terrorists warned that if the Sheikh does not “recant” his statements criticizing Abbas and recognizing Jewish rights in Hebron, “our response will be with armaments.” This is a death threat, pure and simple.
This death threat did not come from Hamas. It came from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has a long history of association with Abbas’s Fatah movement. In other words, these are Abbas’s terrorists. And when confronted with opposition, their response is not to debate, but to intimidate and kill. I don’t know how many Palestinians agree with Sheikh Jabari, but Fatah seems determined to make sure we never find out.
Israelis dream of peace. A large majority of Israelis would make significant territorial concessions to the Palestinians if such concessions would in fact bring peace. But hard realities keep dashing these hopes. Israel’s supposed partners for peace don’t want to end up like Sadat, Abdullah and Gemayel. And now, these supposed partners for peace are the very ones making the threats and wielding the weapons. It’s difficult to remain optimistic about Abbas when one sees how he treats those with whom he disagrees. Luckily for Abbas, no one is reporting this story.
David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel, is the author of In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity (Encounter 2010).