I Believe Arafat
by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
On May 15, 2002, Yasir Arafat addressed the Palestinian Legislative
Council in Ramalla. The occasion was the 54th anniversary of the Nakba
("the disaster" of Palestine, i.e. the establishment of the State of
Israel on May 15, 1948). In his speech Arafat referred to the suicide
attacks against Israeli citizens, stating that these attacks "do not serve
our cause, but rather subject us to angry criticism on the part of the
Arafat called upon the Council to deal with this
problem (which has aroused serious discussions among Palestinians and
Arabs in general) from the vantage point of the "Hudaybiyya Conciliation
Accord, out of our concern for the patriotic and national interest of our
[Palestinian] people and [Arab] nation, in order to strengthen worldwide
solidarity with the Palestinian people and its cause".
What is behind this reference to Hudaybiyya? It conveys the following twin
1. "The Hudaybiyya Conciliation Accord" was an agreement which the
Prophet Muhammad signed in the year 628 A.D. with the infidels of his
tribe, the Kuraysh. He did so upon their refusal to join the community of
Islam, when he realized that he could not defeat them militarily. Two
years later, having consolidated his power, he attacked Holy Mecca,
slaughtered the men of his own tribe and torched all the symbols of their
Islam regards the actions of the prophet as religiously sanctioned
models for the behavior of the faithful. In fact, the authorized
collections (Hadith) of Muhammad's acts and pronouncements are among the
important sources for the Islamic authorities of every generation in
deciding questions of religious law. Thus, the prophet's way of treating
his agreement with the Kuraysh is perceived as the ideal procedure for
Muslims when dealing with non-believers: When Muslims cannot impose their
will for expanding the rule of Islam by force, they are permitted to sign
temporary agreements with the non-believers.
Such agreements are to be
kept until Allah grants a sufficient increase in Muslim power. At that
point the faithful are allowed (or obliged) to break the agreements and to
impose Islamic terms on the infidels. Why else would Allah have granted
them the power to prevail?
In referring to Hudaybiyya, Arafat meant exactly this: Any agreement with
Israel is -- in his eyes -- no more than a Hudaybiyya Conciliation Accord.
This is eminently clear to anyone who reads the Islamic sources,
preferably in Arabic. (Internet sites in English tend to portray a rather
conciliatory picture of Islam, for Western consumption, by rephrasing
2. The proof for this is inherent in the second message of the quotation
Arafat's speech. Suicide attacks at this juncture are not condemned as
vile inhuman acts but are held in abeyance because they are presently
incapable of advancing Palestinian goals. At present, the Palestinian
cause can best be served by avoiding international condemnation and by
promoting the encouragement and sympathy of the world community.
What does Arafat mean? That suicide attacks are evil and should be removed
from now on from the arsenal of legitimate weapons in the struggle against
Israel? Not at all. If anything, recruitment and training of shahids is
accelerating. What he advocates for the near term is a change in the modus
operandi. Does he promise not to use suicide attacks again? By no means.
Does his most recent call to desist from attacks upon civilians remind us
of his record of broken promises made to Rabin (1993), Netanyahu (1996)
and in many public declarations between 1993 and 2000? They do indeed.
As a student of Arab politics and as a Zionist with personal past
involvement with efforts to promote peace and understanding between
Israelis and Arabs, I do indeed believe Arafat's message: he does wish to
come to an agreement with the Israelis, but, as he points out to his
followers, any agreement with non-Muslims, such as a commitment to stop
suicide attacks, is simply a modern version of Hudaybiyya.
As such, in
accordance with Islamic principles which form the basis of the political
culture in the Arab sphere, such a commitment may (or must) be broken at
the right time. Clearly, before long, when in Arafat's judgment suicide
attacks will again be helpful to the Palestinian cause, he will once again
call upon his followers to go out and sacrifice their lives in Israel's
streets ('millions of shahids marching to Jerusalem').
Great tragedies have occurred in international affairs when governments
try to understand potential enemies in terms of their own political
culture. The events of September 11 can serve as one recent example.
Israeli ignorance of Islamic traditions and Arab culture have brought
about many serious political and military setbacks, from the surprise
attack which started the Yom Kippur War (October 6, 1973) to our lack of
realism all through the Oslo process, 1993-2000.
We shall continue to
disregard the Islamic tradition only on pain of more naive dreams, by
Israeli and Western leaders, dreams which are totally detached from the
Middle Eastern reality, a reality which is becoming increasingly colored
by the Islamic brush.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Department of Arabic and
research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at
from the July 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine