Rattling The Cage: A new, unfair Israeli demand

How to get the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish stateõ

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
This new idea that Israel shouldn't negotiate with the Palestinians until they first recognize Israel as the Jewish state is wrongheaded for so many reasons. First, you don't come up with a major new demand, a precondition for negotiations yet, when those negotiations are only a couple of weeks off and they've run into so much trouble already. Second, the mere fact that this notion was cooked up by Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai, the two right-wing leaders in the cabinet who want only to kill the Annapolis peace talks before they're born, should make it clear enough what this Jewish state demand is really about. Third, Israel has never in its history asked any negotiating partner, Arab or other, to recognize it as the Jewish state, yet this didn't prevent any number of those negotiations, notably with Egypt and Jordan, from ending in success. Fourth, the substantive, practical goal behind this new demand - that the Palestinians forgo the right of return - would be achieved if the Palestinians were to agree to Israel's long-standing, legitimate demand: that they simply agree to forgo the right of return. They haven't yet. They may never do it. The Palestinians' stance on this point is already one of the worst obstacles to peace. So why, if you really want peace, make the situation even worse by demanding that the Palestinians go yet another step further and recognize Israel as a Jewish state? YET IT SEEMS there are many Israeli centrists who genuinely would like to make peace with the Palestinians but have nevertheless endorsed this new Israeli demand. They say it would be a sign of mutual recognition, which the Palestinians have never genuinely agreed to. They argue that Israel is prepared to accept Palestinian statehood while the Palestinians, by refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, are only prepared to accept Israel as an unpleasant fact, and a temporary one at that, one that may be supplanted in the future by Arab demographics or growing Arab military power. A related reason these centrists cite is the need for the Palestinians to make a fundamental psychological change regarding Israel. They argue that the Palestinians' psychology, regardless of the agreements with Israel their leaders signed, has kept them on the path of terrorism, radicalism and anti-Semitism. By accepting Israel as the Jewish state, these centrists maintain, the Palestinians will finally accept not just the fact of Israel's existence, but the justice of Israel's existence - the right of the Jews, not the Palestinians, to sovereignty over this land. According to this claim, only if the Palestinians accept the justice of the Jewish state can Israelis be assured that will they stop trying to destroy it. THERE'S A lot to this argument. I agree that the Palestinians' utter contempt for the idea that the Jews have a right to a state here is a basic cause of the conflict. I agree that this Palestinian attitude feeds terrorism. If Mahmoud Abbas were to publicly recognize Israel as the Jewish state, peace would suddenly seem within reach, not galaxies away as it seems now. But that's only half the story. The other half is the recognition that Israel has withheld from the Palestinians. The other half is the fundamental psychological change that Israel has yet to undergo. The other half is the way the Israeli psychology has played out on the ground, no matter what peace agreements Israel's leaders have signed. Since the 1993 Oslo peace accord, Israel has made a psychological shift toward seeking a two-state solution - but only as the least of possible evils. Israel has never recognized the Palestinians' right to a state on any piece of land that Israelis covet. If Israel did recognize such a Palestinian right, it would not have kept building new settlements and expanding existing ones all along. If Israel did recognize such a Palestinian right, the number of West Bank settlers wouldn't have quadrupled in the years since the signing of the Oslo peace accord. IN THE face of these facts, can we try to understand why no matter what we say, the Palestinians remain unconvinced that Israel is prepared to accept a Palestinian state? If Israeli cynicism about Palestinian promises is based on experience, the reverse is also true. So if we are entitled to demand proof of a deep, psychological shift in their attitude, aren't they entitled to demand proof of a deep, psychological shift in ours? If we Jews are entitled to demand Palestinian recognition of our right to sovereignty over the land inside the borders of the State of Israel, what about the land beyond those borders? Wouldn't Palestinians be entitled to demand Israel's recognition of their right to sovereignty there? Wouldn't that be an equitable agreement, an act of mutual acceptance, proof that we and they have sincerely, decisively come to terms with the justice, and not just the unpleasant fact, of each other's national existence? SO HERE'S my proposal: The Palestinians will recognize Israel as the Jewish state - as the land that rightfully belongs to the Jews. In exchange, Israel will recognize the disputed territories beyond its sovereign borders as the Palestinian state - as the land that rightfully belongs to the Palestinians. Now even if the Palestinians were to somehow do what the rest of the world has never done and accept Israel's annexation of post-1967 Jerusalem, that would still leave all of the West Bank. All of Judea and Samaria. Hebron, Beit El, Gush Etzion, etc. etc. Israel would hand it all over to the Palestinians not only because of the "demographic threat," or Israelis' "unwillingness to rule over a foreign people," but because Hebron, Beit El, Gush Etzion and the rest of Judea and Samaria rightfully belong to the Palestinians - and not to the Jews. I WANT to see any Israeli prime minister sign such an agreement. It'll never happen - and it shouldn't have to happen. Nobody should ask Israelis who believe in the Jewish right to Judea and Samaria and United Jerusalem to abandon their belief. What people believe is nobody else's business but their own. All the Palestinians are entitled to ask is that for the sake of peace, Israelis agree not to implement that right - the right to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel - and instead accept the Palestinians' sovereign rule over the land beyond Israel's borders. In other words, for Israel to recognize the Palestinian state. In exactly the same way, nobody should ask Palestinians who believe in the Palestinian right to Haifa, Jaffa, Ashkelon, etc., etc., to abandon their belief. All Israel is entitled to ask is that for the sake of peace, Palestinians agree not to implement that right - the right of return - and instead accept the Israelis' sovereign rule over their own land. In other words, for Palestinians to recognize the State of Israel. Of course, this won't satisfy Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai. But for anyone who really wants peace, no further mutual recognition that this should be necessary.