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Religious trash talk goes mainstream in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Religious fundamentalists are gaining greater influence on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, complicating peace efforts.

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''The hour will not come until you fight the Jews," said Mr. Hussein, quoting the saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad. "The Jew will hide behind stones and trees. Then the stones and trees will call: O Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.''

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Hussein later denied that the sermon, delivered Jan. 9 at the 47th anniversary of the establishment of Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement, was a call to kill Jews. But the fact that it did not prompt a condemnation from the PA, which aired the speech on its TV channel, is a telling sign of poisoned relations as Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jordan were trying to revive peace talks.

'Descendants of apes and pigs'

The moderator at the Fatah rally said explicitly that the conflict is a religious one. ''Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs is a war of religion and faith,'' he said.

But Palestinians do not have a monopoly on incendiary invective. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the religious Shas party – part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition – has said over the last decade that Arabs should be attacked with missiles, that they are ''vipers,'' and that God should ''smite them with the plague."

At the time of the "plague" comment in 2010, Mr. Netanyahu said the rabbi did not speak for him, but stopped short of condemning the message.

Likewise Mahmoud Habash, the PA's Religious Affairs minister, steered clear of condemning the mufti. Habash himself has at times described the conflict with Israel as a ribat, or sacred struggle in defense of Islamic land. The term appeared in PA-approved high school textbooks in 2007.

An East Jerusalem storekeeper, who asked not to be identified, terms the mufti's use of the hadith "natural."

"He didn't make it up. The mufti simply took a famous hadith from the time of the prophet. Ovadia Yosef opened the door for this," the storekeeper says.

Throwback to the days of Begin

Khatib argues that speeches by Netanyahu reflect the replacement of secular discourse with hard-line nationalist and religious motifs. Of particular note is Netanyahu's September address to the United Nations last year, when he noted that his own name dates back to the the son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob.

"Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Samaria 4,000 years ago, and there's been a continuous Jewish presence ever since," he said. He also demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state – a demand never made of Egypt or Jordan, the only two Arab states that have peace deals with Israel.

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