Demands that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state have become a major stumbling block in John Kerry’s search for a settlement to the Middle East’s most enduring conflict.
As the US secretary of state continued a frantic diplomatic quest on Sunday that some have dubbed “mission impossible”, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said Palestinians’ refusal to formally acknowledge the country’s Jewish character had become the key topic in his discussions with Mr Kerry.
Palestinian officials admitted that Mr Kerry has pressed the issue with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, who has so far refused to bend.
“The Americans have made it very clear that [recognition of Israel as a Jewish state] is their position,” one Palestinian official told The Daily Telegraph. “They talk about it in meetings with our side and make an issue out of it. We have made it very clear that we are not going to sign any agreement that recognises Israel as a Jewish state.”
Many people agree with the Prime Minister that the refusal of the Arabs to admit that Israel is the state of the Jewish people is at the heart of the dispute. But then they draw the conclusion that a statement to this effect by the Arabs — the enunciation of a formula that is acceptable to both sides — would represent a ‘breakthrough’ that would enable the end of the conflict. This reasoning is fallacious and naive to the extreme.
John Kerry, who pushes willful ignorance and blindness to new lows, is now searching for such a formula. But words are not actions. The problem isn’t that the Arabs aren’t prepared to say certain words about Israel, but rather that regardless of what they say, they intend to do their worst to snuff out Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, which they view as an affront to both Islam and Arab honor.
An honest statement that the PLO is willing to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in any of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean would represent a historic turnabout, a complete repudiation of what has been the PLO’s reason for being since its creation in 1964. It would be like a crocodile announcing that it is becoming a kitten. Such a statement, even if made with a wink, a nod and fingers crossed, would endanger the life of the person making it.
But doesn’t Mahmoud Abbas already accept the concept of a two-state solution? Well, sort of: as a temporary stop on the way to replacing the Jewish state with an Arab state. This is why the PLO concept of ‘two-state solution’ includes the ‘right of return’ for Arab ‘refugees’ to Israel as an integral part. If you doubt this, here are some explanations of their understanding of the two-state idea from PLO and Fatah officials and media.
At some point, Kerry may even be able to get Abbas to utter some words that he can make Netanyahu accept, which will then be touted as a ‘recognition’ of the Jewish state of Israel. If so, it will surely be one of those masterpieces of diplomatic equivocation (like ‘two-state solution’), which can be interpreted in precisely opposite ways by the sides.
What would have to happen in order for me to believe that Mahmoud Abbas has suddenly become Nelson Mandela? Well, for starters, the continuous incitement against Israel and Jews, the glorification of terrorists, the maps that don’t show Israel, etc. would have to change. This isn’t going to happen with this generation of Palestinian leaders, and I don’t see it on the horizon either.
I have a suggestion for John Kerry: just go home, spend some time on your nice boat and stop trying to square the circle. The best way for the US to promote peace between Israel and the Arabs is to wholeheartedly support the side that actually wants peace.