Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why the Palestinians Have No Excuse Not to Recognize the Jewish State. By Adi Schwartz.

Why the Palestinians have no excuse not to recognize the Jewish state. By Adi Schwartz. i24 News, April 1, 2014.

Bashing Netanyahu Won’t Bring Peace Any Closer. By Jeff Jacoby. NJBR, March 8, 2014.


It is now clear that of the many issues on the table in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is perhaps the most contentious one. So much so, that the Arab League included an absolute rejection of such recognition in the closing declaration of its annual summit last week.
While it seems a theoretical issue, with no practical meaning, it could still wreck the entire negotiating process. But why? How come acknowledging Israel’s nature (which Secretary John Kerry has rightly pointed out was recognized by the international community back in the Partition Plan of 1947) is so difficult for the Arab side? Does it really have to be so difficult?
From the Israeli perspective, it is a justified and legitimate request. If Israel is expected to give up strategic territory and bring its border as close as 22 kilometers from its main metropolis, it has to be assured in return that a peace agreement with the Palestinians puts an end to all future demands. If the Arab side continues to dream about dismantling the Jewish state—and to act accordingly—it makes no sense for Israel to give up territory.
The undermining of the post-agreement Jewish state can be achieved either by attempts to flood it with Palestinian refugees and their descendants, or by fomenting unrest and demanding autonomy and later on independence for the Arab minority inside Israel, or by sheer force.
Only a crystal clear message from the Arab side that the conflict is over, merits ceding territory. Such a clear message means acknowledging that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and will remain so.
Arab officials, however, have raised concerns. They correctly observed that such recognition would mean accepting the Israeli narrative regarding Jewish rights over some of the land. Indeed, a peace agreement and a process of reconciliation would necessitate an update of the Arab narrative that views the entire land as exclusively Arab and Muslim.
But since the Jewish narrative evolved along the years, so can the Palestinian narrative change. Back in 1919, when Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, laid out Zionism's claims in Versailles, the map he presented included all the territory west of the River Jordan (and areas in today's Lebanon). Jews saw the entire land as theirs, but as soon as 1937, the Zionist movement was ready to accept less than that vision.
The same process of Israeli accommodation can be traced in its views regarding a Palestinian independent state, which was anathema to the Israeli leadership until late in the 1980s. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir even famously said that there was no such thing as a “Palestinian people.” In the last 15 years, however, all Israeli prime ministers have accepted, reluctantly or not, the notion of a Palestinian sovereign state in the territories.
Another Palestinian argument against recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is that it would jeopardize the status of the Arab minority in Israel. But a Palestinian recognition would not damage nor improve their status. The Palestinian leadership was never the custodian of the Israeli Arabs’ rights; in fact, their rights as minority members are protected in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, in Israeli law and in court rulings. Regardless of Palestinian recognition, Israel sees itself as a Jewish state, which didn’t prevent it from preserving the rights of its Arab citizens. In other words, Palestinian recognition is needed for the bilateral relations with Israel, but will have no effect on Israel’s domestic issues.
Last but not least, Palestinian officials claim that recognition would mean giving up their demand that millions of refugees and their descendants return to Israel. That is absolutely true: Palestinians must decide whether they want to replace the post-agreement Israel with yet another Arab state, or to live peacefully side by side next to Israel. If their choice is the latter, they should have no problem resettling the refugees and their descendants elsewhere. And in that case, they should have no problem in recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Only such recognition would mean that the conflict is over.