Photo Credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90
Mahmoud Abbas, acting leader of the Palestinian Authority

As we learned from his recent interview with journalist Jeffery Goldberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East.

But Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have given every indication they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

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Further proof of that came earlier this month from The New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gave a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page has endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state. The Times’s dismissal of the Jewish state demand is one more indication that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere.

Let’s first dismiss the claim made by both the Times and Jarbawi that this demand by Israel is an innovation on Netanyahu’s part whose purpose is to derail the peace process. In fact, there’s nothing new about it. The original 1947 United Nations partition resolution stated that the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River was to be divided between an Arab state and one it designated as a “Jewish state.”

If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term.

But they can’t, and Jarbawi doesn’t shy away from explaining why. The Palestinians can’t say the words “Jewish state” because to do so would force them to give up their historical narrative in which they see themselves as victims of history who can only be made whole by annulling the results of Israel’s War of Independence.

The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist, that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it. That seems unfair to Jarbawi because it means the 1948 refugees and their descendants would be deprived of their dream of “return,” which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Jarbawi makes the specious point that agreeing to Israel’s being a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. He knows very well this is a red herring since Israel’s basic laws hold that it is both a Jewish state and one in which ethnic and religious minorities have full rights. Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel; they serve in its Knesset, government and judiciary. There is no conceivable scenario under which those rights will be annulled even in the event of war, let alone the outbreak of peace.

But his real objection to this point comes in the next paragraph when he says that even if those conditions are confirmed, Palestinians fear a peace treaty might mean that Jews in the West Bank who wish to remain in their homes in the event of peace, would be given the same rights that Arabs have in Israel.

A savvy Palestinian propagandist might have been willing to concede the right of Jews to live in a future Palestinian State as a protected minority, but not Jarbawi. Speaking for what is mainstream – indeed, the virtually unanimous – opinion of Palestinians, the academic says Jews have no right to be there and therefore cannot be accorded the equal rights Arabs have inside Israel. Their vision of peace is apparently one in which a Jew-free Palestinian state exists alongside an Israel flooded by Palestinian refugees who would vote the Jewish state out of existence.

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Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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