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Israel and Palestinians: The crucial issue


A little-noticed event underlined the hopelessness, frustration and despair of the struggle for peace in the Middle East, or more properly, peace between Israel and the Arabs.

The fundamental problem, from the Israeli point of view, is that the Arabs never accepted the legitimacy of Zionism. That is, they did not accept that the Jews are a people, and that as a people, the Jews are entitled to self-determination in their own land. That is the definition of Zionism. This fundamental right was recognized in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922, and in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. National self-Determination is the underlying basis of all "international legitimacy" so beloved of the Arab states. Arab rejection of this right of the Jewish people is at the core of the entire conflict, which began, not in 1967 with the Six Day War, but in 1920, when the first Arab rioters attacked Jews to protest the idea of a national home for the Jewish people.

The Arabs of Palestine protested that they too want national self determination. That demand, which seems perfectly reasonable, was met by an understanding in Israel that there must be a peace process that would create "two states for two peoples." That slogan embodies the Israeli understanding of the peace process. It is the crucial issue. For both Jews and Arabs who live in the land of Israel (or the former territory of the Palestine mandate) the creation of two national states is the only possible goal of a peace process, if it is to have any meaning.

Therefore, it was astounding, dismaying, disappointing and appalling to read that the chief negotiator of the Palestinians, a veteran of all the years of Oslo negotiations, Saeb Erekat rejected this principle:

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, rejected on Monday the government's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Erekat said that "no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity."

Erekat is not a radical. He represents the moderate leadership of the moderate Palestinians. Erekat is not unfamiliar with Israeli society after all these years or with Jews. He is not a stupid man. He knows of course, that most Israeli Jews are not religious, and that Zionism is not fundamentally a religious ideology. He knows that there is an "Am Yehudi" - a Jewish people.

"Zionism" is not a dirty word. It is not a plot of the fictitious elders of Zion to take over the Middle East. Zionism is not racism. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, as Chaim Herzog explained at the UN many years ago.

There will never be any compromise about this point from the Israeli side, and there cannot be. If Israel is not the national home of the Jewish people, there is no point to having a state of Israel. The "peace" negotiations cannot have as their outcome the creation of two Arab states between the river and the sea, or the initiation of a demographic contest to see who will control Israel, or the launching of an Arab state whose goal is the abolition of Jewish self-determination. If this point was not understood in all those years of negotiations, in the dialogue that preceded the negotiation, and in the countless people-to-people dialogues that have been held over the years, then all the dialogue has been a total waste of time, and all of the peace process, not just the Annapolis meeting, is pointless.

Ehud Barak has made a correct and long over-due suggestion: that Israel must propose its own peace initiative. It is too bad that he did not do so in 2000, when he began negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. What is the point of haggling over this or that neighborhood in Jerusalem, if the Arab side will not recognize the legitimacy of Jewish self-determination? What was the point of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, if it did not achieve mutual recognition of two peoples?

Even if Ehud Olmert did everything else wrong as Prime Minister, putting this issue on the table must be remembered as a signal service to the cause of peace and understanding as well as to Israel and Zionism. Basic problems cannot be solved by sweeping them under the bed. The whole point of the "peace" process has hitherto been obscured by prevarication and evasion, misnamed as "creative ambiguity."

Zionists who distrust the intentions of Palestinians regarding the peace process have insisted that the Palestinians have a "staged plan" for robbing Jews of any homeland. The Palestinian state, according to them, would be a stage in that plan, rather than the crowning achievement of a peace process. The "Right of Return" of refugees, insisted upon by the Palestinians, is viewed not as the legitimate longing of a people to go to their homes, but as a device for destroying the Jewish state. Erekat's statement validates those fears. That is why the insistence of Sari Nusseibeh, that Palestinian Arabs must give up the "Right" of Return, is so important for Israel. Unfortunately and ominously, this position is rejected by the majority of Palestinian Arabs.

When even Ariel Sharon accepted the inevitability of the end of occupation, he said that we cannot continue to rule over another people. It is equally true that we can never again allow ourselves to be ruled by another people. If a Palestinian state would not accept the validity of Zionist aspirations, would not accept that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, there cannot be a Palestinian Arab state. Establishment of such a state would not bring peace, but only the foundation of a new and more dangerous phase of hostilities. It would be a rerun of 1948 of the Israeli War of Independence, and there would be another Nakba, another disaster, for either the Arabs or the Jews. This Nakba migh have much more finality than the Nakba of 1948.

Mutual recognition of the right of both peoples to self determination is the real "core issue" of the peace process. Erekat can decide what he wants to be, and can determine if he is an "Arab" or a "Palestinian" or a "Muslim." I decide what I want to be, and it is not for Mr. Erekat to decide for me that I am religious, or that I am of no nationality. The Jewish people have come home, to be a free people in our own land, and we shall never give up that right.

That, and not checkpoints, or holy places in Jerusalem, or water rights, is what has been at the heart of the conflict for over 80 years. There are no "peace" movements who accept or want a one state "solution" or who do not accept two states for two peoples. There is no "justice" in totally denying the national rights of one side, and there will never be peace that way.

Anyone who does not accept the right of both peoples to self-determination, but maintains nonetheless that they want peace, is lying. They want only defeat and subjugation for one side.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000646.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

israel can easily absorb all the arabs and descedants who want peace with the jews . for all islamic and christian arab revolts on free jewish retun compensation will have to be made in the form of voting rights for all jews world wide and the righteous gentiles in the ancient land

Posted by izaak @ 11/18/2007 01:56 PM CST

Isserof affirms that: "Mutual recognition of the right of both peoples to self determination is the real "core issue" of the peace process." These are fine words, with which no-one can disagree. Olmert utters equivalent words to assure the West of his good intentions. At the same time Israeli settlements continue to expand on Palestinian land and Israel maintains its draconian occupation regime. Israel's "denial of rights" is a reality as Israel holds all the cards. Against this ongoing injustice Arab rhetoric has little weight yet is quoted by Israel as a pretext for maintenance of the status quo.

Posted by Yitzhak @ 11/27/2007 03:03 AM CST

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