Westerners often refer to Ramallah as a modern and liberal city dominated by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction. The city boasts fancy restaurants and bars where alcohol is served freely to men and women in Western dress, who sit together to eat and to smoke water pipes (nargilas).
But the scenes on the streets of Ramallah, headquarters of Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) last week broadcast a rather different message -- one that calls for the elimination of Israel. The message came on the eve of Abbas's visit to the White House for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump.
According to PA officials, Abbas is scheduled to affirm during the meeting with Trump his commitment to the two-state solution and a "comprehensive and just peace" with Israel.
As Abbas and his advisors prepare for the May 3 meeting with Trump, however, thousands of Palestinians gathered in Ramallah to call on Arab armies to "liberate Palestine, from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea." The Palestinians also called for replacing Israel with an Islamic Caliphate.
The call for the elimination of Israel was made in the center of Ramallah, only a few hundred meters away from Abbas's office. It came during a rally organized by Hizb ut Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a radical pan-Islamic political organization whose goal is the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, or Islamic state. Like the terrorist group ISIS, Hizb ut Tahrir seeks to establish a state to enforce Islamic sharia law and carrying the da'wah (preaching) of Islam to the rest of the world.
The rally was organized to mark the 96th anniversary of the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924. It was held with the permission of the Palestinian Authority leadership, even though Hizb ut Tahrir is vehemently opposed both to Abbas's policies and Israel's right to exist, which it rejects. PA officials claim that despite its radical ideology, Hizb ut Tahrir does not pose a threat to stability in the region, because, unlike Hamas, its influence is limited and it does not resort to violence.
One after the other, leaders of Hizb ut Tahrir stood up in Ramallah this week to proclaim the need to "liberate all Palestine" and to restore the Islamic Caliphate. Dr. Maher Ja'bari, a Hizb ut Tahrir leader, said:
"The Islamic Caliphate will be restored only when Palestine is fully liberated. Palestine was occupied because of the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate. The issue of the caliphate has united the [Islamic] nation and it is the basic case for the liberation of Palestine and the implementation of Sharia for all Muslims under one [Muslim] ruler."
Once the Muslim extremists come to power, Abbas and most of his officials would be the first to be beheaded or hanged in public squares for "selling out to the Jews." Still, Abbas's leadership did not see a need to prevent the Hizb ut Tahrir supporters from holding their rally in Ramallah to voice their extremist views, which also included an appeal for the "mobilization of Arab and Islamic armies to liberate Palestine and the Aqsa Mosque."
Thousands of supporters of Hizb ut Tahrir, a radical pan-Islamic political organization, participate in a rally in Ramallah, on April 22, 2017. (Image source: Hizb ut Tahrir video screenshot)
Many of the extremist groups hoping to take over the West Bank despise Abbas and his PA leadership, who for them are arch-infidels. A brief statement, recently issued, again, by Hizb ut Tahrir concerning the transfer of ownership of land in Hebron to a Russian church, is telling:
"For more than a month, the Palestinian Authority and its most brutal criminals are practicing repression, arrests and intimidation, lies and misinformation in order to close the chapter of the land of the companion Tamim bin Aws Ad-Dari; the PA gave away 72 dunams of land in the heart of Hebron to the hateful and criminal Russians."
Referring to the PA's crackdown on supporters of Hizb ut Tahrir and similar groups that have also been protesting the transfer of the land to Russians, the statement added:
"The PA commits one evil crime after another, with no shame or bashfulness; from surrendering of endowment land to the arrest of the sincere people of the country to the spreading of lies and fabrications – all to reward the crimes of the Russians against the Ummah in Palestine, ignoring the rules of Islam. The PA gives no weight to the sanctities of Islam."
In addition to the rally, Hizb ut Tahrir and similar groups have also been organizing a series of lectures and seminars throughout the PA-controlled territories in a bid to rally supporters behind their plan to "liberate all Palestine" and establish an Islamic state that governs according to sharia.
The annual Hizb ut Tahrir rally, which draws thousands of Palestinians, is yet another reminder of the growing influence of radical Islamic groups among Palestinians. In many ways, it is hard to tell the difference between Hamas, ISIS, Islamic Jihad and Hizb ut Tahrir. They all share the same goal: the elimination of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic regime where non-Muslims (dhmmis) would live as minorities and pay jizya, the tax levied by Islamic states on non-Muslims residing in Muslim countries.
Why, then, do Abbas and his PA allow these extremists to send their poisonous messages towards Israel? Some Palestinians argue that fear is what drives them to refrain from stopping Hizb ut Tahrir from issuing calls for the annihilation of Israel. Others claim that Abbas already has huge problems with Hamas and does not want to add to his list of enemies another radical Islamic group, which, they explain, does not engage in violence and terrorism as does Hamas. It is also possible that deep inside, Abbas and many of his top aides identify with the goals of Hizb ut Tahrir, namely the elimination of Israel. Abbas also wishes to use these Islamic extremists to depict himself as the "good guy" versus the "bad guys." This is a ploy intended to dupe Westerners into giving him more funds "out of fear that the Islamists may take over."
This stance may work for Abbas. However, Israel, and secular Palestinians who are not eager to live under an Iranian-style or Saudi-style Islamic regime, are the big losers here.
Meanwhile, such rallies in the center of Ramallah will only help raise another generation of Palestinians on the glorification of jihad and will further incite them against Israel.
Abbas's claim that he seeks a just and comprehensive peace with Israel is refuted by fact after fact on the ground. His sweet-talk about peace and the two-state solution will have far less impact on Palestinians than the voices of Hizb ut Tahrir and its sister groups, which strive to "liberate Palestine, from the river to the sea." One wonders on whose behalf Abbas is speaking when he talks about coexistence with Israel. Indeed, one wonders if he is even speaking on behalf of himself, with the center of Ramallah the stage for Hizb ut Tahrir and its jihadi friends?
Bassam Tawil, an Arab Muslim, is based in the Middle East.