By Jeremy HAVARDI, author and political commentator.
Recent reports suggest that Palestinian leaders have decided to reject John Kerry’s framework for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
There are serious disagreements over the issue of refugees, the borders of a future Palestinian state, an Israeli presence in the Jordan valley and the status of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu, by contrast, is likely to accept the Kerry framework in principle, subject to it being a non- binding document to which the government can express reservations. Of all the Palestinian rejections, perhaps none is more galling than their refusal to accept Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people”, part of Kerry’s formula for mutual recognition.
Nabil Shaath, a leading ‘moderate’, was bold enough to ask: “Do you think that any Palestinian leader in his right mind can ever accept this?”
For Saeb Erekat, this rejection was about respecting their “history, culture and religion” while for Mahmoud Abbas, his people had a “right” not to recognise “the Jewish state”. Such sentiments reflect a stubborn streak of rejectionism that’s dogged the peace process from the start. Netanyahu has been criticised by some for making this demand of the Palestinians.
Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid’s leader, recently declared: “My father didn’t come to Haifa from the Budapest ghetto in order to get recognition from Abu Mazen”. Shimon Peres has said it is unnecessary, while for former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, insisting on such recognition is “nonsense”.
Yet Netanyahu has sound political reasons for issuing this demand. He knows that if Abbas recognises Israel’s Jewish character, it would undermine the PA’s argument for a Palestinian ‘right of return’ to Israel. ‘Palestine’ would be declared the logical destination for refugees in the Arab world with no legitimate claim being made against the Jewish state.
It is precisely because Palestinian leaders refuse to budge on the right of return that they won’t accept Israel as a Jewish homeland. Second, recognition shows Palestinians want to end the conflict.
The failure to acknowledge Jewish national rights in the Holy Land has been the root cause of the 90-year war between Jews and Arabs and a constant spur to murder, terrorism and rejection since the start of the British mandate.
Thus accepting that Israel is a Jewish state would signal a willingness to change perspectives, leave behind past intransigence and build optimistically for the future. Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to acknowledge the obvious: that his country’s Jewish identity is not some passing phenomenon but is intrinsic to the Israeli state.
Third, accepting Jewish statehood would undermine the grotesque Judaeophobic incitement commonplace throughout the disputed territories.
A key theme of this media war is that Israel’s Jews are thieves, liars and usurpers in a land which is essentially Arab. Recognising Israel as a Jewish state suggests instead that Jews have exercised an internationally accepted right of self-determination.
Yet Abbas remains intransigent because, like his predecessors, he cleaves to a distorted narrative of Jewish cunning and Palestinian suffering. He sees Israel as a Western-backed, colonialist enterprise, and a pariah among the family of nations.
He has consistently denied that the Jews have any legitimate presence in Jerusalem, hence his comment in 2012 that the city “will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian” and his derogatory references to an “alleged” Jewish Temple.
Erekat raised eyebrows recently with an historically illiterate claim that his ancestors had lived in the region “5,500 years before Joshua Ben-Nun came and burned (his) hometown Jericho”. On this view, the Jews have no right to be in the land and are bludgeoning their way through the region like latter-day Crusaders.
When you erase another people’s history like this, you assault their identity and demonising them becomes natural. Now we know why Palestinian leaders cannot accept Israel as the Jewish state: it would be tantamount to legitimising theft, colonialism and exploitation.
Weighed down by such a perspective, it becomes impossible to compromise for peace.