The international community and surprisingly large parts of the Israeli establishment continue to describe the conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East as a conflict over land. This despite the fact that Muslim Arabs openly admit that the conflict is about religion. More precisely about Islam’s claim to supremacy over all of the Middle East, including Israel.

In a June statement, one of the closest and most senior advisers to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, explained, once again, what the conflict is really about.

According to Al-Habbash, the conflict today with Israel is “ … the battle of history between Islam and the enemies of Islam; between the Muslims and the enemies of Muslims; between the Islamic culture in all its splendor and human glory and the culture of Satan attempting to establish oppression and aggression at the expense of the culture of truth and goodness … .” Al-Habbash said on official P.A. TV.

According to Al-Habbash, furthermore, the current battle is not just another battle on behalf of Islam. It is the ultimate battle described in the Koran as the “final promise,” leading to great destruction for the “Children of Israel.”

Al-Habbash has served as personal adviser on religious and Islamic affairs to Abbas since 2014, and is the P.A.’s Supreme Shariah Judge, as well as chairman of the Supreme Council for Shariah Justice. Prior to his appointments to these senior positions, Al-Habbash served as Minister of Religious Affairs for five years. The statements of Al-Habbash, therefore, undoubtedly represent the official line of Abbas and his entire P.A. regime.

Al-Habbash has been saying these things for a very long time, but clearly, few people have bothered to listen. A recurring message in his sermons has been that Muslims are in an eternal religious conflict with Israel. He said the following in a sermon on official P.A. TV in 2010:

“Allah has preordained for us the Ribat (religious war) on this blessed land. We are committed to it by Allah’s command. Let no one be mistaken or under the illusion that Ribat (religious war) is a choice and nothing more. It is a commandment that necessitates hardship and requires the person to rush to fulfill this command. If Allah has chosen you for Ribat on the land of Ribat, you, the choicest of God’s servants, then this is an honor. The enemy is patient, it is waiting for the nation to collapse. The struggle over this land is not merely a struggle over a piece of land here or there. Not at all … .”

In 2015, Al-Habbash stated“Throughout history, there has been a conflict between good and evil…We are not inventing anything new here. … This is a conflict between … good and evil, between two projects: Allah’s project vs. Satan’s project … a project connected to oppression and Satanism, to Satanism and animosity, occupation and barbarism.”

Notice the referral to “occupation.” Al-Habbash is careful to mix his message of Islamic war with what the international community loves to hear. Catering to the international community, Al-Habbash, according to the PMW, has repeatedly made statements, such as the following, which he made in the official P.A. daily in September 2018: ”Our people’s conflict with the occupation is a political conflict and not religious, as Israel is trying to market it to the world.”

Properly understanding the conflict’s origins is critical for the assessment of what can be done—and crucially what cannot be done—to resolve or alleviate it. The default position of a long row of Israeli and U.S. governments has been to offer “land for peace,” as Israel did with the Oslo Accords and later with the “disengagement” from Gaza.

The only thing that Israel received in return was a terrorist state in the P.A. and a terrorist state in Gaza. The latter is currently engaged in devastating arson terrorism, missile attacks and the digging of terror tunnels into Israel.

Understanding the message of people such as Al-Habbash, however, could have prevented such disastrous decisions, as an analysis would have shown that no amount of land, short of giving up the entire land of Israel, could ever lead to any “peace.”

Judith Bergman is a columnist and political analyst and a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

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