Apparently, I’m in the minority as a peace activist who sees some merit in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to extend Israel’s settlements freeze in exchange for Palestinian President Abbas declaring his acknowledgment of Israel as a “Jewish state.” What liberal/left critics are missing is that Netanyahu may not simply be throwing a grenade into the peace process (which would be deplorable if that’s his entire intent); he may be engaged in horse trading, which is part & parcel of political negotiations.
They are also overlooking that–because of the second intifada launched in late 2000, and then the Hamas electoral victory and the on-again/off-again attacks on Israel even after its complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005–most Israelis have lost confidence in the Palestinians’ willingness to live in peace. A clear Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people would help rebuild this confidence.
But more importantly, there is no two-state solution without a recognition by both sides that Israel is the Jewish state (allowing also for equal rights for non-Jewish Israeli citizens) and that a new sovereign Palestine is the Arab state which the United Nations General Assembly voted for in November 1947. It was the violent Arab rejection of this UN decision that extended the Arab-Jewish conflict beyond Israel’s independence in 1948. How does this conflict end without such a clear mutual understanding of two states for two peoples?
Naomi Chazan is correct that Israel does not absolutely need this outside confirmation. But she’s neglecting the psychological element that Anwar Sadat understood so keenly when he addressed the Knesset in 1977 and explicitly indicated that Israel is now welcomed as part of the Middle East.
I understand why Hussein Ibish and others in the pro-Palestinian camp see Netanyahu’s offer as a non-starter. It’s reasonable that the quid pro quo for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state or the Jewish homeland should be a long-term settlements freeze, for at least as long as negotiations continue, rather than a mere two months. Dr. Ibish sees this as a “final status” matter that should be decided in conjunction with the refugees issue. But this would only keep alive the suspicion of many Israelis, or even most, that the Palestinians still envision a full-scale “right of return” for the refugees of 1948 to what is now Israel. There can be no meaningful two-state solution if this were true. A declaration on this would clear the air for Israelis and help engender the trust needed for meaningful negotiations.
Ibish’s position is reminiscent of the mistake that Prime Minister Rabin made in 1994 after Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron. Rabin’s government came close to forcibly removing extremist settlers from Hebron and/or Kiryat Arba—the latter being the hard-line settlement community where Goldstein lived. This would have been a concrete sign of atonement by Israel for Goldstein’s crime; instead, Rabin decided that he would not touch settlements at that point because it was a “final status” issue.
Sadly, Israel is still saddled with the cancer of extremist settlers in Hebron and Kiryat Arba. Moreover, Israel’s official apology for Goldstein, without compensatory action at that time, rang hollow and helped trigger the waves of terrorist attacks in retaliation. It’s even thought that Yiyah Ayyash was inspired by the Goldstein atrocity to become the Hamas master bomb-maker known as “the engineer.” We can only imagine what might have happened if Israel had acted forcibly against extremist settlers back then.
The similarity is not in the moral weight of these issues but that each side–Israel in the Goldstein case and the Palestinians regarding the Jewish state–has needed to reassure the other of its good faith.