Abbas Says No to Israel as a Jewish State

What did the Palestinians agree to exactly in 1993 at the start of the Oslo process?

mahmoudAbbas_1581534cAt Davos, Switzerland on Friday, at the meeting of the World Economic Forum, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu again sounded the Jewish-state theme.

After meeting there with U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, Netanyahu told reporters:

The meeting was very good. ... I restated the two principal issues that concern us: mutual recognition of two nation states—with one of them being recognized as the Jewish people's nation state—and of course, security.

The next day on Israeli TV, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a dove and outspoken believer in a “two-state solution” who is also chief Israeli negotiator in the current Israeli-Palestinian talks, made a surprising, uncharacteristically stern statement of her own:

If [Palestinian Authority president] Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist on positions that we and the rest of the world consider unacceptable, the Palestinians will be the ones who pay the price. 

At least one of the “positions” she was referring to was undoubtedly one that Abbas voiced yet again—as on many other occasions—last week. In an interview to Moroccan TV, Abbas said quite plainly: “Palestine can never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

Just a week before that he had received backing from nine foreign ministers of the Arab League, who notified Kerry that they, too, would not accept Israel as a Jewish state.

Some believe the Jewish-state issue is no big deal in itself, a hitch created by Netanyahu to foil the negotiations. Didn’t the Palestinians already recognize Israel in 1993 at the start of the Oslo process?

That was, of course, the “peace process” that resulted in the creation of the Palestinian Authority, waves of terror against Israel, and repeated attempts—up to the present one driven by the Obama administration—to reach a final agreement.

The process was officially launched by an exchange of letters, dated September 9, 1993, between the then leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, and the then Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Arafat’s letter stated:

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security…. [T]he PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.

The PLO in fact never invalidated those articles and provisions of its Covenant. Even more significantly, though, the meaning of Arafat’s “recognition” of Israel emerged in the 2000 Camp David Summit, which basically broke down over Arafat’s insistence on the “right” of millions of descendants of refugees to “return” to Israel. 

In other words, Israel could exist—so long as it was flooded by Arabs and, by demographic fiat, ceased being the Jewish state.

As Yair Rosenberg has made clear, Netanyahu was not the first to realize that without the “Jewish state” clause, no Palestinian—or larger Arab—“recognition” of Israel would have any meaning or even hold out a hope for “peace and security.”

The Jewish-state demand was first made by a group of leftist Israeli intellectuals in talks with a group of Palestinian intellectuals in July 2001—nine months after the “Second Intifada” terror onslaught against Israel had erupted in the wake of Camp David.

The demand was first officially raised by none other than Livni, then foreign minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, in 2007 negotiations with a Palestinian delegation.

In adopting the demand, then, Netanyahu was in no way breaking new ground.

Which brings us back to the present—and the continued ironclad Palestinian and Arab refusal to accept the existence in their midst of a single non-Arab, non-Muslim, Jewish state.

In a sense, all the failure and havoc wrought by the “Oslo process”—from suicide bombings and rocket attacks to UN-centered Palestinian diplomatic warfare against Israel to unending incitement—were implicit in that lack of a “Jewish state” proviso in the original Oslo documents.

It is not that, even if a Palestinian or Arab leader were to endorse those words, a miraculous transformation would occur. The absence of those words, however, speaks volumes about the real, religio-historical depth of the regional delegitimization of Israel.

On the Israeli left, in Washington—including, in recent times, the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations—there is great resistance to internalizing that lesson. Finally assimilating it, however, would mean getting over the pointless obsession with the Palestinian issue and taking the U.S.-Israeli alliance out of its baneful shadow.

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