The PA’s effort to control the mosques is a big part of its bid to stamp its authority on the West Bank, muzzle its Islamist foes, and convince friendly and cash-providing Arab and Western governments that it can be trusted to run a would-be state. The PA’s religious-affairs minister, Mahmoud Habbash, has dispatched 200 new imams, armed with security clearance, to manage mosques hitherto run by their pro-Hamas rivals. He issues scripted weekly sermons and instructs censors to monitor mosques and verify compliance. “A Muslim must respect the sultan,” says the minister. “There is no place for politics in the mosque.” All the West Bank’s 1,700 mosques, including nearly 300 in conservative Hebron, are now, he says, in government hands…The PA’s burgeoning security forces add a helping hand. They recently shot their way into a Hebron mosque during a search for a Hamas man wanted by both Israel and the PA. They fired on the Mercedes of the irrepressible spokesman for the Liberation Party (Hizb ut-Tahrir), an up-and-coming Islamist group that wants to replace the parliamentary system with a caliphate, and beat him up. When worshippers interrupted a PA-endorsed preacher in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque, the fabled resting place of Abraham, and told him to speak out against Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza, the PA’s local religious-affairs official summoned heavies to boot them out. Not everything has gone the PA’s way. Worshippers in two of the West Bank’s main towns, Nablus and Ramallah, have ejected imams who condemned the Islamists in Friday sermons. Elsewhere official imams have had shoes* thrown at them.”

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