Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian Authority President Machmud Abbas’ official spokesman, said that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”:
“We have no intention of dragging this conflict in a religious direction …The conflict between us is not religious. So why do you need our recognition that your state is Jewish? …We are telling you… the peace agreement will bring about the end of the conflict and the end of all claims. So what is all this nonsense you are saying that this proves we won’t accept the state of Israel?” (“PA Tells Kerry No to Framework Deal in Current Form”, Times of Israel, Avi Issacharoff, February 14, 2014)
Mr. Rudeineh’s statement seems reasonable, but it is based in the denial of the existence of the Jewish people as a nation, and that denial permits the PA to say that though it is ready to make peace, Israel remains an illegitimate usurper nation and Palestinian refugees have an absolute right of return to homes and land in Israel.
It is one thing for the Palestinians to recognize the existence of the state of Israel. It is quite another for them to recognize that Israel is the state of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.
On the one hand, Israel does not need an outside nation to grant her legitimacy. Yet, for the sake of long-term security and peace, Palestine must acknowledge at some point that Israel is the legitimate nation-state of the Jewish people, that Jews are far more than members of a religious community, that like all great civilizations the Jewish people has a long history in its ancestral land, a language, sacred literature, culture, legal and ethical traditions, all of which is corroborated by massive archaeological, extra-biblical and literary evidence. Palestinian denial of the legitimacy of the Jewish people’s identity, its Zionist expression, and the meaning of the founding of the modern state of Israel is not only contrary to fact but the source of Jewish Israeli distrust towards them.
Yes, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (z’l) and President Shimon Peres did not demand that Egypt and Jordan accept Israel as a “Jewish state,” and Egypt’s and Jordan’s recognition of “the state of Israel” was enough to enable two peace agreements to be signed and implemented.
However, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fundamentally different from Israel’s conflict with other Arab nations. Neither Egypt nor Jordan claimed the land of Israel as part of its own territory. Uniquely, Israelis and Palestinians claim the same land as their heritage, and so mutual recognition of each other’s nationhood and mutual relinquishing of claims of Greater Israel and Greater Palestine are essential in any peace agreement. This means that west bank Jewish settlers and Palestinian refugees will have no claim on land that is outside their respective nation’s future agreed upon borders.
Though Israel’s leadership has accepted the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to a nation state of their own, the Palestinians still refuse to accept the Jewish people’s legitimacy as a nation, though they are willing to sign a two-state agreement and settle all claims.
Does it really matter that the Palestinians do not recognize a “Jewish state” or the right of the Jewish people to their national home? Israeli President Shimon Peres says that requiring such a statement from the PA is “unnecessary.” Many, including Mr. Rudeineh (above), say that at the end of the day all claims will be settled once and for all in a two-state agreement. Perhaps, nothing more is required than this.
However, according to current polls, 77% of Israeli Jews agree with Netanyahu, that the PA must acknowledge the legitimate rights of the Jewish people to our nation state. Even Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords and as far left on the Israeli political spectrum as one can be, agrees with Bibi, as does Ari Shavit, a middle-left journalist at Haaretz who just published “My Promised Land.”
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Israelis want symmetry and reciprocity when it comes to Israel and Palestine acknowledging each other’s legitimate national rights.
Perhaps, PA President Abbas will acquiesce once all the core issues have been settled. I pray that he does, because symmetry and reciprocity are the essential prerequisites before the two sides are able to make a deal. Deeper than this, they are prerequisites for each side to acknowledge their respective responsibility for the suffering endured by the other at their hands, to express regret for the other’s suffering, and to ask and receive forgiveness for that suffering.
If that were ever to occur, national t’shuvah (i.e. turning and reconciliation) between our two nations and peoples can be accomplished, and then there can be real and sustaining peace.
[Note: In my next blog, I will discuss why the term “Jewish state” is problematic for Israel, as opposed to Israel being the “state of the Jewish people.” In my view this is not a distinction without a difference.]