November 13, 2007 - As the peace conference in Annapolis approaches, the words of the negotiators are especially significant.
Saeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator, is considered a moderate. Most commentators do not think his views extreme. Hamas is extreme. But Erekat represents the moderate segment of Palestinian leadership.
So here is the moderate Palestinian view: Saeb Erekat refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. "No state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity," he told Israeli radio.
This came as a response to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's insistence that negotiations must begin with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. "We won't hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state; this is a launching point for all negotiations," he said.
However, the Palestinians have refused to incoporate the recognition of Israel's existence as a Jewish state into a joint declaration the negotiating teams are preparing for the Annapolis conference. It is an ominous sign. So far the Palestinians have adamantly refused to budge on their demand for a "right of return" of Palestinian refugees not only to the new Palestinian state but to Israel as well. They know full well that such a demand would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and ultimately the creation of two Palestinian states. A refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state - which means a refusal to recognize Israel - would be consistent with this goal. A non-Jewish Israel would have no reason to resist an unlimited right of return for Palestinian Arabs, and would in time become another Arab state with an imperiled Jewish minority.
The Palestinians, it seems, are not merely trying to reverse the results of the War of 1967, which led to the occupation, but the War of 1948, when Israel was created. The whole idea of partition was to form one state for Arabs, and another state for Jews. Now the Palestinians don't even want to recognize a Jewish state. This rejectionist attitude has been the root of the conflict ever since it began. The Arab rejection of Arabs and Jews coexisting as equals shows little sign of fading.
"No state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity," says Erekat.
Is that so? Has Saeb Erekat never heard of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, founded as a Muslim nation? How about Egypt and Jordan, where Jews are barred from citizenship?
Has Saeb Erekat never heard of Saudi Arabia?
In Saudi Arabia, only Muslims can be citizens. The public practice of other religions is forbidden. Christians cannot establish churches. There are no Jews in Saudi, they were all driven out, so synagogues aren't even an issue. If one is caught entering the country with a Bible or a cross, it is confiscated.
In Israel, members of all religions are free to practice their faith and to visit their holy places. Israel, a democracy, guarantees religious freedom to its citizens, who are not required to be Jewish.
How much religious freedom would Jews have in a Palestinian double-state?
Palestine is as Muslim as Israel is Jewish. For years now the Palestinians have been clamoring for recognition as a people. After many years of feeling threatened by the very idea of a Palestinian state, Israel is ready to recognize the Palestinians. Were this willingness mutual, peace might even be possible. But the Palestinian agenda is aggressive. Israel ended the settlements in Gaza and is willing to negotiate the settlements on the West Bank. Meanwhile the Palestinians are insisting on a settlement project of their own inside Israel.
Erekat is not alone in his refusal to accept Israel's existence as a Jewish state. Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, said the same thing on al-Arabiya television: "We do not accept conditions of this type, not at all." Fayyad, like Erekat, is a "moderate." We already know what Hamas thinks about accepting the existence of Israel.
By repudiating the existence of a Jewish state, Palestinians are repeating the very mistake that lies at the root of this conflict. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which created the partition between the Jewish and Arab states, says explicitly: "Independent Arab and Jewish States...shall come into existence in Palestine." The United Nations recognized a Jewish state, but Palestinians still refuse. There should be no reason why the two groups cannot coexist side by side. Rejecting partition 60 years ago led to disaster. Rejecting partition today will lead to a cataclysm.
It is difficult to fathom how two parties can make peace without, at the very least, mutual recognition as a starting point. The words of Saeb Erekat the moderate make one wonder: Is there no end to intransigence?
Haaretz Service and News Agencies. "Solana: Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal Possible by the End of 2008." Ha'aretz, November 14, 2007.
Ravid, Barak. "Erekat: Palestinians will not accept Israel as 'Jewish state'." Ha'aretz, November 12, 2007.
Simpson, Victor L. "Pope Lauds Christian Presence in Saudi." Washington Post, November 6, 2007.
Peace with Realism