saul singer 88.
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Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's idea of bringing the "prisoners' document" to his people through a referendum is being welcomed as a bold and clever move in his power struggle with Hamas. It is, perhaps, all those things. It is also a missed opportunity.
The document was hammered out by prominent Fatah and Hamas terrorists in an Israeli prison. Though billed as Abbas's way of forcing Hamas to recognize Israel, anyone who reads the text can see that it does not fulfill any of the Quartet's three requirements: recognizing Israel, reaffirming previous agreements, and rejecting terrorism.
The prisoners' document calls for the creation of a Palestinian state in all the remaining territory Israel took control of in 1967 - without saying anything about recognizing Israel, or even accepting the Oslo Accords. It also repeatedly reaffirms the Palestinian "right of return," which completely contradicts the two-state solution. Finally, far from renouncing terrorism, the document calls for the creation of a new organization to coordinate "resistance" against Israelis located outside the 1967 lines.
So how exactly would a vote on this document force Hamas to accept Israel? It would not. All it would do is bring Hamas to where the PLO was in 1974, when it issued the infamous "phased plan" for Israel's destruction whereby Palestinians would establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza as a platform from which to continue the "struggle" against Israel.
The sad truth is that, in Palestinian terms, this is considered progress. But "progress" can be a setback if it locks in a stalemate. If the Palestinians really want to divert Israel from its current track of unilateralism, the only way is to mimic the incredible transformation Israelis have wrought in their attitude toward a two-state solution.
PEOPLE TEND to forget where Israelis were in 1993, just before the Oslo Accords burst onto the scene. The consensus was that creating a Palestinian state would be tantamount to national suicide. Just a few years before, in 1988, departing secretary of state George Shultz reflected this attitude when he claimed a Palestinian state was inconceivable.
Since then our consensus has flipped. Opposition to Palestinian statehood has shrunk to a fraction of the Knesset and the public. Former right-winger Ariel Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, have not only endorsed a Palestinian state but adopted the Left's notion that creating one is necessary to keep Israel Jewish and democratic. "Disengagement" and "convergence" are essentially a method of forcing the creation of a Palestinian state over Palestinian opposition.
The ongoing terrorist offensive that began in September 2000 was launched to consecrate Yasser Arafat's rejection of the state offered him by Israel at the Camp David summit that summer. His rejection was not based on territory, since Israel offered an almost total withdrawal and would likely have agreed to a land swap to compensate for small settlement-bloc carveouts.
The Palestinians did not fight a war over a five-percent territorial dispute; they fought because they were unwilling to give up the "right of return," truly and finally accepting Israel's right to exist.
Israel not only accepts, but desires a Palestinian state. The only real obstacle to creating one is the Palestinians' idea of destroying Israel demographically through the "right of return."
FROM THE beginning, a two-state solution had two fundamental and parallel requirements: Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state, and Palestinian abandonment of a "right of return" to Israel, not just to what would become Palestine.
Since 1993, Israelis have fulfilled their part of the bargain to an almost unbelievable degree. Yitzhak Rabin lost his life in this tortuous process; our political system has turned upside down.
During this same period Palestinian leaders have not even begun to prepare their public for "painful concessions." In fact, the "prisoners' document" continues the trend by emotively reaffirming the "right of return" no less than seven times.
If Mahmoud Abbas wanted to break this cycle, he could have called for a referendum on a very different document, the statement of principles drafted by former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon and Al Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh (see www.mifkad.org.il). This statement, to date signed by over 260,000 Israelis and 160,000 Palestinians, declares: "Palestinian refugees will return only to the State of Palestine; Jews will return only to the State of Israel."
Imagine if Abbas had the courage to put this proposition up for a referendum, thereby launching a true debate among Palestinians over whether to accept a state and make peace with Israel. That debate would be bitter and perhaps violent, but I believe Abbas would win. If he did, Israeli unilateralism would lose its rationale and final-status talks could quickly begin.
But let's say that such a scenario is unrealistic since it would involve an overnight leap away from decades of brainwashing over the sacredness of the "right of return." Even so, that is no excuse for Abbas, let alone Hamas, refusing to even begin to convince Palestinians that they cannot have peace without dropping a demand inconsistent with Israel's right to exist.
Nor is the international community making this prospect any easier. While Israel's reversal came after massive international pressure to accept a Palestinian state, Europe and even the US are not openly urging Palestinians to drop the notion of a "right of return" to Israel. Even George Bush's pre-disengagement letter to Sharon, which hints at support for Israel's position, only does so in the context of final-status talks.
Why should Abbas make pre-final status concessions on the "right of return" if even the US is not saying unequivocally that this demand conflicts with Israel's right to exist, the two-state solution, and peace?
The hope for peace will dawn when Palestinian brainwashing stops, and its effects are painstakingly reversed. The greatest thing the international community could do to advance peace would be to encourage this critical Palestinian process by openly expressing the expectation that its leaders embark upon it.
- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11