In his speech at Bar Ilan University on June 14, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a new Israeli “peace plan,” with preconditions that a Palestinian negotiator must first meet before he would “promptly” engage in “unconditional” bilateral talks to meet an international consensus demanding the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. His preconditions added to the fourteen conditions the former Israeli government of comatose Ariel Sharon attached to Israel’s adoption in grudge of the 2003 Road Map blueprint for peace with the Palestinian side, on the basis of which the U.S. administration of President Barak Obama and his presidential envoy George Mitchell are now urging an early resumption of “immediate” Israeli – Palestinian peace talks, which Mitchell on June 26 hoped “very much to conclude this phase of the discussions and to be able to move into meaningful and productive negotiations in the near future."
Sharon’s conditional approval of the Road Map has condemned the blueprint as a non-starter, led to the Israeli military reoccupation of the Palestinian autonomous areas, aborted former U.S. President George W. Bush’s promise to Palestinians to have their own state twice in 2005 and 2008, and doomed the twenty – year peace process since the Madrid conference in 1991 to its current impasse that Obama and Mitchell are trying to break through. It is a forgone conclusion that Netanyahu’s preconditions -- Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” “demilitarization” of the prospective Palestinian less-than-a-sovereign state and preserving Israel’s illegitimate “right” to expand its illegal colonial Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories -- will fare worse than Sharon’s conditions.
Netanyahu demanded that the “Palestinian population,” and not the Palestinian people -- who live “in Judea and Samaria,” and not in the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territory, where there is an “Israeli presence,” and not an Israeli military occupation -- should first agree to a “public, binding and unequivocal” recognition that Israel is “the nation state of the Jewish people” worldwide, and not the nation state of the Israelis. His demand was an arrogant precondition ridiculed by Gideon Levy in Haaretz on June 15 as an “excessive demand that Palestinians recognize the Jewish state by one who has failed to recognize the Palestinians as a people,” sarcastically welcomed the next day by Ma'ariv’s chief political columnist, Ben Caspit, who wrote: “Welcome, Mr. Prime Minister, to the 20th century. The problem is that we're already in the 21st.” Moreover, such a precondition “is almost humiliating and it is unlikely to be met,” by the Palestinian Authority (PA), according to Avi Issacharoff, writing in Haaretz on June 17.
Israeli analyst M.J. Rosenberg wrote on June 19: Acceptance of Israel as a “Jewish state” is a non-starter at this point. And Netanyahu knows it. If that is a precondition for negotiations, there will be no negotiations. But without any definition of borders and with Netanyahu committed to expanding settlements in the West Bank, how can anyone seriously expect Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state?” Aaron David Miller, a former senior U.S. negotiator in the Mideast, said Netanyahu’s speech “was less about pursuing Arab-Israeli peace and much more about pursuing the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”
PA’s Prime Minister in Ramallah, Salam Fayyad, noted in a speech at Al-Quds (Jerusalem) University on June 22 that his Israeli counterpart’s speech missed all reference to the Road Map blueprint as well as to the thorny issue of expanding settlements and described the speech as "a new blow to efforts to salvage the peace process." Head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s department of negotiations affairs, Saeb Erakat, condemned Netanyahu’s speech as a “non-starter.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to isolate him and his government. His Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of Abbas and the U.S. and Israel’s 30-year unwavering peace partner, said Netanyahu’s precondition “aborts the chance for peace,” although he declined to heed Abbas’ call for the isolation of Netanyahu and received him and others of his cabinet. Al-Baath, the mouthpiece of Syria's ruling party, commented: “Netanyahu has confirmed that he rejects the Arab initiative for peace.” In an editorial on June 16, the Saudi Arabian English daily, “Arab News,” said his speech was “a challenge to the world community.” Walid Jumblat, a leading figure of the March 14 bloc, which recently won the Lebanese elections, lambasted the speech as dragging the region into a “dangerous stage” and one that “completely crippled” any possibility to reach a peace settlement, adding that, “any talk about Israel as a Jewish state means closing the file on the (Palestinian right of) return,” on which there is a consensus among rival Lebanese factions to reject the resettlement of half a million Palestinian refugees hosted by Lebanon since 1948.
However Obama and Mitchell insensitively ignored all negative Palestinian and Arab reactions, repeatedly and on record renamed Israel as the “Jewish” State of Israel, with Obama lightly trying to defuse the explosiveness of Netanyahu’s demand by stating that it was “exactly what negotiations are supposed to be about,” because “this is what both America and Europe are asking,” according to Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.
Angrily describing Netanyahu as a “swindler” who plays “tricks” with peace – making, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO’s executive committee, said the Israeli premier wants Palestinians to “become Zionists.” Mere heartfelt commitment to Zionism will not be enough, however, Hasan and Ali Abunimah wrote in The Electronic Intifada on June 17, for the Palestinians' conversion to have “practical meaning,” Netanyahu explained, “there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders.” In other words, “Palestinians must agree to help Israel complete the ethnic cleansing it began in 1947-48, by abandoning the right of return,” Abunimah brothers added.
In a statement, five PLO member factions, namely the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People's Party, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement and the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, said Netanyahu’s speech was “tantamount to a declaration of war on Palestinians' national rights.” For the first time since the Palestinian – Israeli “peace process” was launched some twenty years ago, the voice of the PLO peace partners was much louder and harsher in criticizing Israel than that of their opposition among the non-PLO factions, like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Netanyahu seems to have succeeded where four years of Egyptian efforts have failed to make Palestinians speak in one voice.
When Netanyahu makes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” as the cornerstone of his “peace” policy and has Avigdor Lieberman, who calls on record for the transfer of Israeli Arab Palestinians, as the foreign minister of his ruling coalition, he officially raises ethnic cleansing to the level of state policy, and may be this is why French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly urged visiting Netanyahu on June 30 to replace his top diplomat and “to get rid of that man,” whom he declined to meet when Lieberman was recently in Paris, leading Israeli member of Knesset Afu Aghbaria (Hadash) and ten others of his parliamentary colleagues to call on world leaders to declare what they condemn as the “racist” Lieberman a persona-non-grata. Another Hadash MP, Hanna Swaid, wrote to Mitchell: "The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state harms the Arab citizens (25% of the population), undermines their legal status in the country and puts them at the heart of the struggle with no representation in the negotiations.”
Recognizing Israel as a/or the “Jewish state” should be rejected not only because it politically forecloses whatever chance remains for the resumption of peace talks and sets the regional stage for the alternative, which another peace partner to Israel, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, has repeatedly warned against because it “would have adverse and catastrophic consequences on the whole region,” but more importantly because strategically such a precondition, if it gains international recognition, would inevitably be used by Israel as a casus belli to officially resume -- what has been so far claimed an unofficial policy by neutral monitors and officially denied by Israeli politicians – and defend its ethnic cleansing of native Arab Palestinians as an internationally –recognized state policy inside its borders, and in the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967 outside them, and as an international carte blanche vindicating what the Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe documented as its more than sixty-year old “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”
Politically this would rule out the Palestinian refugees’ “Right of Return” and legitimize Lieberman’s “transfer” dreams (expulsion en masse of Israel’s Arab - Palestinian citizens as well as Palestinian natives of East Jerusalem) to be made true as soon as the political timing render their realization feasible, to throw “the Arabs into the sea,” according to Aharon Barak, the former president of the supreme court of Israel from 1995 to 2006, who was speaking at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv on June 25.
Israeli governmental and parliamentary officials of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition criticized Barak's support for “a state for all its citizens.” It would be very instructive here to recall the first Prime Minister of Israel and forefather of ethnic cleansing David Ben-Gurion’s reaction to the news that the world renowned physicist Albert Einstein declined the offer of the Israeli presidency in 1952: “Tell me what to do if he says yes! If he accepts, we are in trouble,” he said, because Einstein “would distinguish between Jewish homeland and state, and argued for a bi-national state where Jews and Arabs shared a common land, not a strictly defined “Jewish state,” according to Fred Jerome, who in June published his new book, “Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas about the Middle East” (St. Martin’s Press).
More instructive than Einstein’s arguments and Ben-Gurion’s reaction was the U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s proclamation, just 11 minutes after the state's unilateral declaration, that, “The United States recognizes the provisional government (proclaimed by Jews “in Palestine”) as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel,” and NOT as “the new Jewish State” as proposed by the American Jewish leaders, crossing out the proposed words and replacing them in his own handwriting with “the new state of Israel.” Obviously, Netanyahu’s precondition “was devised because Netanyahu understands that Palestinians will never accept it because it negates their standing in a land they have inhabited from time immemorial.” (Rosenberg on June 14)
Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, visiting Israel on June 28, said in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post: “First we have to understand what is meant by this [Jewish state demand]. So far, I can say that I don't have a clear picture on that.” “Resolution 181 (UN Resolution 181, also called the 1947 UN Partition Plan) calls for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. But at the same time it gives equal rights to all of its citizens,” said Kohout, who seemed not interested in recent history to note that the Israel recognized by the UN Resolution 181, which at the time had a population of some (500,000) Jews and (438,000) Arab Palestinians, is very much smaller than the one we know now, which enjoys a de facto, but not yet a de jure, international recognition, thanks to Israel’s "War of Independence" using Plan D to “cleanse” Palestine, according to Pappe and to five major territorial expansionist wars, dubbed “preventive” or “pre-emptive” wars by Israeli strategists, who launched them to secure their ethnic cleansing exploits, claiming with their former premier, Golda Meir, that there was “no Palestinian people” to cleanse.
To ethnically cleanse the Palestinians was the very basis of Israel’s raison-d’être. Speaking of the Arabs of Palestine (Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry), Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, said: “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” The tragic result was summarized by Israel’s minister of defense during the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, in an address to the Technion, Haifa, (Haaretz, April 4, 1969): “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
It seems clear now that the UN General Assembly Resolution 4686 of 1991, which revoked an earlier one equating Zionism with racism (the 1975 Resolution 3379), was a premature measure.
Kohout, whose country was the former rotating president of the European Union, is not a rare species in demanding to “understand what is meant” by the “Jewish state” precondition. One could not but recall the Venetian word “ghetto,” once meant for the Jews of Europe. The Israeli leadership seems now in the grips of a “ghetto mentality” racing against the modern times of pluralism and coexistence, when nations are moving towards a globalized 21st-century identity of citizenship by allegiance, regardless of race, creed or gender, and at a time when the French translation of Israeli academic Shlomo Sand’s “The Invention of the Jewish People” is granted this year’s French prestigious Aujourd’hui Award for a book which argues that Zionism in modern times “invented” the concept of the “Jewish people” as well as their “imaginary” historical connection to Palestine.
*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories.