November 29, 1947, was a watershed date in modern Jewish history. The family of
nations, through the United Nations, decided in Resolution 181 to split
Palestine, which was to be vacated by the British Mandate between an independent
Jewish state and an independent Arab one.
The Jewish state was thus to
become the national homeland of the Jewish people. The Jewish side, through the
Jewish Agency, accepted the UN resolution with joy and realism. The Arab side,
through the Arab League, refused with grim shortsightedness.
withdrew a few months later and Israel was declared an independent state on May
18, 1948. It was immediately attacked by the Arab armies that were ultimately
defeated by the tremendous motivation of the reborn Israel.
marked the 64th anniversary of the UN vote, and we are still in conflict over
the same question of Palestine.
The Palestinians are still stateless, and
their leadership still refuses to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish
While Israel has, since at least the 1967 war, committed every
mistake possible on the issue of Palestine, if not worse, by being enamored with
the corrupting occupation; by not achieving a realistic permanent-status
agreement; and by being led by the settlers, who have become the biggest
obstacle to a peaceful resolution. At the same time, the Palestinian side
continues to suffer from historical myopia.
I often tell my Palestinian
friends that it has never crossed my mind to ask their recognition of our
Jewishness. This depends on us, not them. Yet once the issue has been raised by
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in one of his systematic alibi attempts
aiming to show why peace is seemingly impossible, we have to say that the
historical fact is, as it was stated in 1947, that Israel is the one and only
historical homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians counter by raising
the issues of Palestinian refugees and the Israelis Palestinians.
issue of the refugees is a serious problem and tragedy which needs to be solved
by the parties, including the Arab states which accepted the refugees, and by
the international community. Israel should also shoulder some of the burden and
responsibility when resolving the issue. Yet their historical homeland –
internationally recognized today as the State of Palestine to be established
hopefully in the year to come – should be the one to which there is a right of
return, not Israel.
In the same manner that a Jewish family originally
from Hebron has no right of return to the city of our ancestors, an Arab one
from Jaffa has no right of return to theirs. Therein ultimately lies the
historic compromise and the basis of a two-nation-state
Regarding Israeli Palestinians – they indeed are treated as
second-class citizens by us, in terms of income, employment, services,
infrastructure in cities and villages, and the racist Israel Beiteinu
legislation. They are an important minority group which must demand rights of
equal citizenship, yet cannot expect to receive national rights within
Sixty-four years after 1947, the time has come for a new historic
covenant between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, one which is based on
mutual recognition of each other’s national rights.
The Palestinian side,
led by Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO, should finally recognize Israel as the
homeland of the Jewish people (even by referring to the November 29, 1947,
resolution, which they have already admitted it was a mistake to reject). At the
same time, asking for a contiguous state within the 1967 borders with mutually
agreed land swaps; with the issue of Jerusalem solved along the lines of the
“Clinton Formula” – Arab Muslim and Christian neighborhoods, and their holy
sites as a Palestinian capital, and the Jewish ones as Israel’s internationally
The Palestinian refugee problem should be solved
according to the Saudi peace plan – “a just solution to the refugee problem
agreed upon by the parties.”
The Palestinians must recognize that their
right of return is to sovereign Palestine. This will come with international
compensation, family reunions and socioeconomic development support for
Given the recent meeting between Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal and
Abbas, the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table as a united front.
Hamas can no longer be overlooked. Yet the new Palestinian government will have
to recognize Israel, honor previous agreements between the parties and declare
an end to violence.
Abbas, as Hamas agrees, should lead the
As for Israel, we too have historic decisions to make,
preferably also out of national unity: No more “greater Israel”; no more
occupation of another people; no more settlement expansion; and “yes” to a
Palestinian state, the homeland of all Palestinian Arabs, as Israel is the
homeland of all Jews, within the 1967 lines so that refugees can be absorbed in
Palestine; with stringent security measures to prevent violence and terror; with
full diplomatic and economic relations; a gradual withdrawal of the IDF and of
the settlements into three settlement blocks, within the perimeters of mutually
agreed land swaps.
Nothing short of major historic decisions on both
sides and strategic recognition of historical and current demographic realities,
will lead to a solution of this problem, which given the turmoil in the region
is today more critical than ever.
Without a solution, the Palestinians
might lose their opportunity for statehood and we might sacrifice our peace with
Egypt and Jordan. The two sides would endanger their very identities – we as a
Jewish-democratic state and the Palestinians taking the risk of not finding a
place among the family of nations.
Only such an agreement would give the
leaderships the necessary legitimacy with their constituencies. And only such an
agreement will provide for the most important goal – the future of our states
and peoples, and their well-being and security. Only with peace can society and
economy develop; only in peace can there be social justice; only in peace can
the young focus on education and employment; only in peace can one be part of
globalization and reap its fruits; only in peace can we strengthen our regional
national security against real regional threats; only with peace is there a
horizon of hope; only with such decisions can the circle that was opened on
November 29, 1947, be closed.
The alternative is for both sides to live
in denial of historical realities, needs and rights. Today’s reality would be
replaced by another one, one of conflict and violence, between Israel and the
Palestinians, possibly with the support of Hezbollah. Within the region, the
fundamentalist forces would be strengthened. Internationally, both sides would
lose support. Iran would be delighted.
In such a scenario, a regional war
is not out of the question. And after that, it could be 1947 all over
again.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served
as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.