Arabs and Muslims are up in arms over a controversial visit to Israel by a retired Saudi general, Dr. Anwar Eshki, who is being accused of promoting "normalization with the Jews and the Zionist entity." If "normalization" with Israel is being denounced as a major crime and sin, one can only imagine what "peace" with Israelis would be considered in the Arab and Islamic countries.
General Eshki and a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen met with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj.-Gen. Yoav Moderchai and several Knesset members from the opposition. The Saudi delegation also travelled to Ramallah, where its members met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials.
The anger engendered by the unprecedented visit by the Saudi delegation to Israel shows that many Arabs and Muslims continue to believe that Israel has no right to exist despite the optimism voiced over the so-called Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
Several Arab and Muslim leaders insist that, according to this initiative, an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital would lead to the creation of "normal relations" between their countries and Israel.
However, the outrage the Saudi delegation's visit to Israel has triggered throughout the Arab and Islamic countries points to one conclusion: that for many Arabs and Muslims, the conflict with Israel is not about a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Nor is the conflict about Palestinian rights and "normal relations" between Israel and the Arab and Islamic countries.
Those opposed to the visit are expressing their feelings under the banner of "Anti-Normalization" with Israel. The existence of Israel on "Muslim-owned" land, however, is the real problem. These opponents have no intention of recognizing Israel's right to exist, even if it withdraws to the pre-1967 lines and allows for the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. This, of course, stands in sharp contrast with the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative, which many in the Western world mistakenly believe would put an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The first to express outrage over the visit were thousands of Saudis, including top Islamic clerics, who took to social media to express their poison and hatred for Israel and Jews. Many reminded their listeners of fatwas (Islamic religious decrees) banning any form of "normalization" with Israel and Jews, who are referred to as "infidels and polytheists." The fatwas also forbid Muslims from giving up any part of "Muslim-owned" land to non-Muslims.
In Islam, if land has ever been under Muslim control, like southern Spain, el-Andalus, it must belong to Muslims to be as an endowment, or waqf, held in trust for Allah, in perpetuity. As the entire Middle East was under the control of the Muslim Ottoman Empire from 1259-1924, many Arabs and Muslims believe that the entire area belongs only to Islam, regardless of who may have lived there before.
Jews, who have lived continuously in Biblical Canaan and Judea for three thousand years, might well wonder how they can be accused of "occupying" their own land.
One of the leading clerics, Dr. Ali Daghi, Secretary-General of the International Muslim Scholars, wrote: "There is a consensus among Muslims, in the past and present, that if an Islamic land is occupied, then its inhabitants must declare jihad until it is liberated from the occupiers."
Clearly the two-state solution is not the goal of this cleric and his friends. Nor are they interested in "Palestinian rights." Rather Dr. Daghi is concerned about the "right" of Muslims to all the land, including those parts on which Israel exists today.
Another senior Saudi religious leader, Adel Al-Kalbani, the former imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, joined the "anti-normalization" campaign by declaring: "When we were young, they used to call them the Zionist enemy. For sixty years, this enemy has not changed. But we have changed!" The "change" he is talking about relates to those few Arabs and Muslims who are willing to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Saudi sheikh Esam Al-Zamel said, "The hatred for Israel and the Zionist enemy is inscribed in the hearts of our generation. We must inscribe these values and principles in the hearts of our children."
Another Saudi citizen, Sultan Al-Jumeri, said, "Normalization and extending a hand to the Zionist entity must remain a disgrace and sin that will chase the perpetrators to their last day. This is a betrayal of the history, the land and the martyrs."
Fahd Al-Shumri, also of Saudi Arabia, remarked, "Normalization means recognition of "Israel." This will lead to another phase: relinquishing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and recognizing the Jews' right to the land of Palestine."
For his part, Hassan Al-Mutairi, a Saudi preacher, wondered, "Is there any Muslim who supports normalization with the Zionists? The stone and tree will remain witness to our enmity to the Jews."
"Judgment Day will not come before the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews will hide behind the rocks and the trees, but the rocks and the trees will say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him -- except for the gharqad tree, which is one of the trees of the Jews."
Some Saudi and Arab writers described the visit by the Saudi delegation as a "stab in the back" against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel. They urged the Saudi government to take immediate punitive measures against the former general and his delegation members, in order to deter others from committing such a "big crime" against Arabs and Muslims.
"Israel will remain our number one enemy in spite of the Zionists," remarked Saudi writer Amal Zahid. Ramzi Al-Harbi, another writer from Saudi Arabia, commented, "Anyone who calls for peace with the Zionists should be brought to trial for high treason. Normalization is treason."
Many Palestinians also joined the bandwagon by adding their incendiary and hateful remarks against the Saudis who visited Israel.
"We salute every Saudi who rejects normalization with the occupation," said Palestinian political analyst Ibrahim Al-Madhoun.
Not surprisingly, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups also issued statements strongly condemning the visit of the Saudi delegation to Israel and calling for a ban on such trips. These groups even went as far as condemning a number of Palestinian Authority officials, such as Jibril Rajoub, for participating in the meetings between the Saudi delegation and Israeli officials.
The Palestinian "Resistance Committees," a coalition of various Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip, denounced the visit as a "crime against Palestine and its people." The groups described the visit as "shameful" and warned against attempts by some Arabs and Muslims to "accept the existence of the Zionist terrorist entity on the land of Palestine."
The widespread campaign against the visit of the Saudi delegation to Israel is the direct result of decades of anti-Israel indoctrination in the Arab and Islamic countries, including the Palestinians. At the core of this campaign is the denial of Israel's right to exist and a denial of any Jewish link to "Muslim-owned" land.
Let us be clear: these are not fringe voices. This is mainstream Arab and Islamic society. The Palestinians, too, have long been part of this campaign, promoting their own "anti-normalization" drive to prevent anyone from meeting with Israelis.
By allowing (and sometimes endorsing) such campaigns, the Palestinian Authority is shooting itself in the head. Each time a PA official, including President Mahmoud Abbas, meets with Israelis, a large group of Palestinian "anti-normalization" activists react by denouncing the encounters and calling for a total boycott of Israel.
The anti-Israel BDS movement provides an inspiration to these haters. As far as the enemies of Israel are concerned, the campaign should not be only about boycotts, divestment and sanctions. As the fury over the visit to Israel clearly shows, what bothers them is not the "normalization" with the "Zionist entity," but the fact that Israel exists.
The world can continue talking about the Arab Peace Initiative for as long as it wants. The facts on the ground show that the Arab and Muslim masses continue to see Israel as an alien body that was forcibly planted on "Muslim-owned" land. For the masses, jihad against Israel is the solution, not another peace initiative endorsed by unelected Arab dictatorships.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.