Despite arguably more existential problems to be dealt with in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, such as preventing repeats of recent Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis, the press is still preoccupied with presenting settlements and the impending end of the Israeli settlement freeze as the major obstacle to peace.
Writing on this very issue, Catrina Stewart of The Independent, in an unprofessional display of editorialising, demonstrates, at best, a complete lack of understanding of the bigger picture, or worse, a fundamentally dismissive view of very legitimate Israeli concerns:
Washington hopes to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to a framework agreement within one year, yet the two sides remain deeply divided over even relatively minor issues, such as the Palestinian reluctance to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
While Stewart may believe that the Palestinian reluctance to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is a “relatively minor” issue, Israel’s PM Netanyahu has consistently made this the core to resolving the conflict, recently stating that:
we say that the solution is two states for two peoples, meaning two national states, a Jewish national state and a Palestinian national state. To my regret, I have yet to hear from the Palestinians the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’. I hear them saying ‘two states’ but I do not hear them recognizing two states for two peoples.
The Importance of Recognition
While this may not register for Catrina Stewart, why is the demand to recognise Israel as a Jewish state so important? Professor Shlomo Avinery explains:
If you declared war against the Jewish state, does not the signing of a peace treaty with that state obligate you to accept it? This does not mean the Palestinians are asked to accept the Zionist narrative, but it is incumbent upon them to alter their narrative, which rules out the existence of a Jewish state.
This is exactly what Israel did at Camp David and Oslo. Under the terms of binding international agreements, Israel committed itself to recognizing “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arab nation.” [Prime Minister] Menachem Begin was the first to do this. This is not tantamount to relinquishing the Zionist narrative; it is a willingness to accept the legitimacy of a competing narrative and to seek a compromise. We only ask of the Palestinians that which we ourselves have done in the past.
In response, Professor Barry Rubin writes:
Note by the way something extremely important: To accept the existence of a Palestinian Arab state, Israel or Zionist ideology does not have to make any change whatsoever in its world view. It is not exclusionary. Palestinian nationalism is. For it to accept the existence of Israel–in real terms or even by signing a final peace treaty–requires a political and intellectual revolution.
And one of the ways you know peace is not near is that this revolution has barely begun. Examine Palestinian media, education, the statements (in Arabic) of leaders, mosque sermons, and so on, and you find few hints that there is acceptance of Israel’s long-term, much less permanent, existence. Of course, Hamas makes little secret of its view on the subject.
Fatah’s view is more complex. In private, some of its leaders know they cannot defeat Israel but won’t say so publicly and hope that a long-term battle of attrition will do what force of arms cannot.
Avineri’s last point is particularly important: Israel has already recognized the Palestinians as an Arab people who will, of course, have an “Arab state.” Remember that it is on this very basis that the Palestinians will always demand that every Jewish settler must be removed from their territory.
A two-state solution is supposed to mean: Two states for two peoples. That is the best solution, though of course this doesn’t mean there will be a solution for a very long time, a distinction many people seem not to understand.
It is not for Catrina Stewart to editorialise over or make light of legitimate Israeli negotiating demands. Please send your considered comments to The Independent – firstname.lastname@example.org and any other media outlets that treat the core demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state to be wholly unimportant.