Thankfully the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian talks has, so far, been fairly
void of the overdramatic rhetoric about being on the brink of Abraham’s children
sitting in peace and harmony under their respective vines and fig
The closest we came to words about feeling the flutter from the
wings of the peace dove was newly minted US special envoy Martin Indyk on
Monday, quoting President Barack Obama during his March visit to Israel: “Peace
is necessary, peace is just, peace is possible.”
But even that minimalist
description was jarred a few hours after the Washington launch of the talks on
Monday, and just before Israeli and Palestinian teams sat down for an iftar
dinner, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas provided his vision of Israeli-
Palestinian peace during a visit to Cairo.
“In a final resolution, we
would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our
lands,” Reuters quoted Abbas as saying in a briefing to mostly Egyptian
In other words, the state Abbas wants Israel to give him
must be judenrein.
The irony of a man whose spokesmen accuse Israel of
apartheid saying that his “vision” of his state is one in which no Israeli foot
can trod is simply astounding.
At a time when Israeli confidence that it
will be possible to actually live alongside a Palestinian state needs
desperately to be built up, words like these are at the least counterproductive,
and at the most destructive.
“The test of whether the Palestinians will
live in peace alongside us is whether they will allow some of us to live among
them,” a senior Israeli official said some three years ago. His comments came at
a time when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was indicating that in any future
agreement, not all Jews should have to leave the parts of Judea and Samaria that
will come under Palestinian control, and that those who want to live in places
that have deep religious and historical significance to the Jewish people should
be allowed to do so.
Abbas’s words in Cairo do not exactly enhance a mood
of reconciliation. And it is exactly that mood of reconciliation that needs to
be pumped up right now, not deflated.
One can debate later whether it
will be either wise or safe for a Jewish minority to live in a future
Palestinian state, but to completely rule it out off the bat does not bespeak a
lot of goodwill. And, if the Israeli public is to back a deal, it will need some
sense of goodwill from the other side.
In May 1994, just after the
signing of the Oslo Accords and just before Israel handed Gaza over to
Palestinian administrative control, Yasser Arafat gave a speech in English at a
mosque in Johannesburg.
During that speech Arafat called for a jihad over
Jerusalem (though he said later he meant a “jihad for peace”) and hinted that
the Oslo Accords were a tactical move that could later be discarded.
Oslo advocates, though horrified by his words, explained that the Palestinian
leader did not really mean it, that these words were meant for domestic Islamic
consumption only, and that Israel should not overreact and throw out the baby
with the bathwater.
Time proved that Arafat meant what he said, and that
his head – even in those early, giddy Oslo days – was not exactly in the peace
Efforts to whitewash his words were misguided.
Arafat, Abbas did not call for a jihad in his briefing to journalists in Cairo,
nor did he talk about agreements with Israel as only tactical measures that
could be jettisoned when real victory seemed possible.
But still, there
is something jarring about his declaration that his vision for a state is not
one based on tolerance and mutual respect but rather on the principle that no
Israeli will be allowed to tread in “Palestine.” (Equally jarring is that
comments such as these, and he has made them before, are greeted with relative
These words are even more galling considering that in the
course of the negotiations Abbas will surely demand that Israel accept tens of
thousands of descendants of Palestinian refugees, if not under the rubric of a
“right of return” (which Israel will certainly reject), then certainly as a
There is a substantial Arab minority in Israel.
If there is to be peace, why is it a given that there can be no Jewish minority