December 2, 2007 - In 1969 the London Sunday Times reported that Golda Meir said “There were no such thing as Palestinians.” Later on Meir claimed she was misquoted. But whatever she may or may not have said nearly 40 years ago, today no leader of Israel would ever deny the existence of a Palestinian people. Yes, there are still some on the right who deny it, but fortunately they have become increasingly marginalized, and Israel’s present-day leaders are not among them. Not only do most Israelis recognize the existence of the Palestinian people, they hope to make peace with them some day.
Israel has come a long way in its willingness to make compromises for peace. Today topics that once were taboo, such as a division between East and West Jerusalem, and even the establishment of a Palestinian state itself, are openly discussed. These discussions are important for preparing people to make the concessions that will be necessary, on both sides, for peace to prevail.
Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders have not been preparing their own people for peaceful coexistence. Anti-Jewish incitement from the mosque and from the media still continue. And now there is an interesting new wrinkle: While Israelis have come to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, Palestinians are denying the legitimacy of the Jewish people.
It was already reported that Saeb Erekat and Salam Fayyad have stated their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Since then some have been saying, let's not jump to conclusions, let's wait for Mahmoud Abbas, he's the head and what he says is what really matters.
Now Abbas has given his pronouncement. Yesterday he announced: "Historically, there are two states - Israel and Palestinian. Israel has Jews and other people, and this we are ready to recognize, but nothing else."
Even in the days of Yasser Arafat, who was also notorious for failing to prepare his people for peaceful coexistence with Israel, the Jewishness of the Jewish state was not the big bone of contention that it is today. The Palestinians have just taken a giant step backwards.
Do I exaggerate by saying the Palestinians deny the legitimacy of the Jewish people?
Consider this from the PLO Charter, Article 20: "Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong." Therefore, according to this, there is no Jewish people and no legitimate basis for a Jewish state.
To this Erekat added: "No state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity."
First, Jews are not simply a religion; they are an ethnic group, and denying to Jews the very same rights that Palestinians are striving for - the right to a state of their own and the right to self-determination - is sheer ethnic prejudice. Second, Erekat's statement is worse than false; it is hypocritical.
Article 4 of the Palestine Basic Law, the constitution of the Palestinian Authority, states: "Islam is the official religion in Palestine," and "The principles of Islamic shari'a shall be the main source of legislation."
Would Mr. Erekat care to repeat his statement?
What is behind this latest Palestinian maneuver, considering it is clearly based on lies? The decisive clue may be found in the words of Mahmoud Abbas: "Israel has Jews and other people, and this we are ready to recognize, but nothing else." Who are the "other people"? For the most part, they can only be Palestinian Arabs, who are already 20% of Israel's population. So Israel, if not a Jewish state but a state for both Jews and Palestinians, should admit members of both groups equally, including especially the Palestinian refugees who are demanding a "right of return" to Israel inside the Green Line. The attempt to delegitimize Israel's Jewish identity is really about the right of return. And the right of return is really about turning Israel into a second Palestinian state.
The Palestinians are smart. They have picked up the rhetoric that resounds effectively in Western ears. They want Israel to be a truly "egalitarian" state; a state primarily for Jews is "racist"; it is even an "apartheid" state. The logic of this argument collapses immediately. Israel's non-Jewish citizens are still full citizens. They have the right to vote, are represented in the Israeli Parliament, and have recourse to the courts, which are often effectively called upon to uphold their rights. What rights can be expected by Jewish citizens of a Palestinian state, where Islam is the official religion and where the laws are based on the shari'a, which explicitly discriminates against non-Muslims? If you want to see apartheid in action, just look at those states where Islamic law is most influential and see how non-Muslims are treated. Jews already know from bitter experience what it is like to be a despised minority in an Arab country - and they will never repeat that experience willingly.
Palestinians, who are so fond of quoting UN resolutions, abrogate one of the most pivotal resolutions by refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which created the partition between an Arab and a Jewish state, explicitly recognized the Jewish character of the Jewish state: "Independent Arab and Jewish States...shall come into existence in Palestine." The whole reason for partition was to serve two different peoples with two different sets of needs, giving each the right to define its national character and to determine its future. To refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and to insist on an influx of Arab refugees into it so as to destroy its Jewish character, is to deny UN Resolution 181 and to reject partition. This rejectionist stance has fueled this conflict from the beginning and keeps it going today even while the whole world waits impatiently for peace.
Another tragic casualty of the Palestinian position is the language of peace itself - because now, all Palestinian support for a "two-state solution" has become suspect. In Palestinian language, "two states" has become code for one Palestinian state without Jews and another Palestinian state with Jews. That can never be a path to peace.
While expectations for Annapolis have been building, it has become increasingly acceptable to talk openly about refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We are going in the wrong direction, back towards the legitimization of ethnic hatred. Israel can negotiate many things, but it cannot negotiate its national identity, or allow outsiders to define it. Yet Palestinians are insisting on that as their right. It is an ominous sign.
Have we learned so little in 60 years that the clearly sensible idea of a place for Jews and a place for Palestinian Arabs, each having the right to be and to thrive, remains such a hard sell? If we cannot grant each other, even in theory, the right to live in one's own culture, beneath one's own vine and fig tree, free of coercion by the other, then all talk of peace is empty. Neither side can have it all. The Israelis have given up on "Greater Israel." They are even talking about dividing Jerusalem. But Palestinians, insisting upon the non-Jewishness of Israel and the right of return, hold on to the dream of Greater Palestine. This dream must die, or the children of those who refuse to make peace today will inherit hell tomorrow.
Associated Press. "Abbas reiterates refusal to recognize Jewish state." Ha'aretz, December 1, 2007.
Palestinian Authority. "Palestine Basic Law." May 29, 2002.
Palestine National Council. "Palestine National Charter." May 29, 2002.
United Nations. "UN General Assembly Resolution 181." November 29, 1947.
Peace with Realism