Palestinian refusal to recognize Jewish state leaves Israel with few choices
If there still was any doubt about what Israel means by being recognized as a Jewish state, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas just made things crystal clear.
Speaking on March 6, 2014 on PA television, Abbas declared: “We shall never agree to recognize the Jewish state.” He explained that he would not give up what he called the “right” of the alleged 5 million descendants of the 1948 refugees to become Israeli citizens, if they so wish. And he announced that any deal with Israel would be submitted to a referendum among the “5 million Palestinians around the world, from Canada to Japan.” So, recognizing Israel as the Jewish state means waiving the implementation of the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel. This is why Netanyahu is demanding such recognition - and why Abbas keeps rejecting it.
Abbas’ most recent refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state because such recognition would constitute a waiver of the “right of return” was endorsed by the “Revolutionary Council” of the PA, as well as by the Arab League. Clearly, what Abbas means by a “two-state solution” is an Arab/Palestinian state without a single Jew, and a State of Israel with an Arab majority (as a result of the implementation of the “right of return” to Israel). As in the Vietnam precedent, and in line with the PLO’s 1974 “phased plan,” the idea is to eliminate Israel progressively by using demographic pressure and political deceit.
What Abbas means by “two-state solution” is, therefore, significantly different from the “two states for two peoples” formula. Those who refuse to give up on the “two states for two peoples” formula, however, pooh-pooh Abbas’s statements by arguing that: a. Abbas doesn’t really believe that the Palestinian “right of return” will apply to Israel; b. Abbas has no choice but to say what his constituents want to hear; c. The PLO already recognized Israel anyway, so this “Jewish state” recognition issue is a dud. All three arguments are demonstratively false.
If Abbas weren’t serious about the “right of return,” he would not have rejected the 2008 peace offer of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Abbas apologists claim that he rejected the proposal because Olmert was a lame duck. This theory flies in the face of historical evidence. Condoleezza Rice writes in her memoirs "No Higher Honor" that Olmert submitted his proposal in May 2008, and that Abbas told her that he couldn’t tell four million refugees that only 5,000 would return home. In May 2008, Olmert was no lame duck: only on 30 July 2008 did he announce that he would not run for his party’s leadership. Abbas mentioned to Rice the so-called “right of return,” not Olmert’s legal troubles, to justify his rejection of the proposal.
As for the “he has no choice but to say it” explanation, it is reminiscent of the anecdote about the man who kills his parents and then begs for the court's mercy because he is an orphan. Abbas’ state-controlled media and schoolbooks keep hammering that the “right of return” is sacred and non-negotiable. If Abbas were serious about abandoning this fantasy, he would get out the message through his state-controlled media and schoolbooks. Abbas has only himself to blame for the fact that the myth of the “right of return” is alive and kicking.
The third argument is flawed, as well. In his letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on 9 September 1993, PLO chief Yasser Arafat did recognize “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security” (though not Israel’s Jewishness). More significantly, however, Arafat committed in his letter to repeal the articles of the Palestinian Covenant that deny Israel’s right to exist. Those articles, however, were never repealed.
In April 1996, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) announced its decision to amend the Palestinian Covenant and to appoint a commission to amend it - but the amendment was not carried out.
Abbas’s firm insistence on the “right of return” will inevitably lead the current negotiations to another dead end. This is why leading Israeli figures are calling for a “Plan B.” Former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, and former IDF Chief of Intelligence, Amos Yaldin, advocate unilateral withdrawal. Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, in her newly released book "The Israeli Solution," calls for full annexation.
Both disengagement and annexation are unilateral acts. Both have serious drawbacks. But in light of Abbas’s words and deeds, unilateralism seems to be Israel’s only way out. Israel admittedly has a choice of bad options. A negotiated two-state solution is no longer one of them.
Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.