Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian rhetoric and the rejection of recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland

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Or Avi-Guy

"The declaration of a Jewish state and all of the racism that follows are definitely rejected" proclaims the singer in the new song by Palestinian songwriter Qassem Najjar, "The Palestinian People's Message to Kerry," which is now circulating on social media and YouTube. It takes exactly 5:32min, the length of the video, to understand the immense challenges to peace negotiations posed by Palestinian rejectionism.

The song describes the Palestinian opposition to Kerry's "framework agreement", which is described as a "Zionist plan" and also sends a threatening warning to the Palestinian Authority leadership: "as long as you are committed to the Palestinian rights, we are with you, But if you make any concession, the people and I will take to the street to chant against you and demand that you go away."

The song is filled with objections to the two-state solution, including emphasising the importance of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to their ancestors' homes in Israel-proper and of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. But none are more clearly put than: "Go tell Obama and America that my land is not a piece of cake for you to share."

Yet perhaps the most troubling lines of the song are accusations over the "Judaisation" of Jerusalem and refusal to accept any "Jewish" presence in the West Bank (or possibly in Israel proper) - "We do not accept Jews within our borders." The first claim is ahistorical and revisionist and the second antisemitic (as are some of the caricatures in the video). Najjar did not even bother to use the usual euphemism for Jews -"Zionists". Now read the first quote from the song again - the refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state or Jewish homeland is rooted in a rejection of any Jewish history and Jewish presence in the region.

Perhaps this one song, however popular in social media, does not represent the entire Palestinian public opinion. Yet it is worrying, to say the least, that a senior Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah said of the new song that it is "100% accurate and honestly sums up the whole Palestinian position toward peace."

The question of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is now at the centre of the public debate about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and Kerry's push for an agreed framework for continuation of the talks. While Israeli officials and expert commentators have explained over and over again (see examples here and here) the logic behind Netanyahu's pursuit of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, the opposite question was too rarely posed to the Palestinians- why not? Their answers are not very reassuring to supporters of the two-state solution.

Take for example the op-ed in the New York Times by Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Bir-Zeit University and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority. Jarbawi falsely claimed that the issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is "an Israeli precondition of sitting at the negotiating table" and that it is somehow a new concept, raised by Netanyahu "most likely because he was looking for a way to sabotage the peace process, which he could then blame on the Palestinians."

The truth is that the issue was not a precondition. It is also not a new demand in the peace talks having been raised by Israeli negotiators at least since 2001, and was a key point raised by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the previous Olmert government. Furthermore, as Jonathan Tobin and Itamar Marcus both mentioned in recent articles, Israel was recognised as a Jewish state or as a homeland for the Jewish people by the international community in the UN partition plan of 1947 and previously by the League of Nations when it established the British mandate in the region in 1922. Tobin eloquently explained:

"If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term."

Yet Jarbawi insists that "Palestinians have legitimate concerns and fears over the issue of the Jewish nature of the Israeli state," and his honesty in outlining them is both revealing and concerning. First among Jarbawi's concerns is the implication that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is also "implicit acceptance of the Jewish-Israeli narrative, and a rejection of the Palestinian one", especially around the 1948 war, or as the Palestinians call it - the Nakba, or "catastrophe." This is first of all a sign of very low national self esteem, but also an important reminder that much of the Palestinian national narrative is based on opposition to Jewish nationalism, Zionism. As Tobin notes:

"The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it."

Jarbawi is also concerned about the fate of Israeli-Arabs, their citizenship and their rights, should the Palestinians "concede that the Israeli state is a Jewish one". Well, someone should inform Jarbawi that Israel's Arab population has, in fact, been living in a Jewish state for the past 66 years, and their minority rights and equal citizenship are already guaranteed both in the Declaration of Independence and a number of basic laws prohibiting all forms of discrimination.

But not a paragraph goes by and the so-called concern for Israeli-Arabs is turned into a hypocritical, even racist, argument. "If Kerry's document were to include safeguards of minority rights within the Jewish state of Israel in exchange for safeguarding minority rights in the future Palestinian state" Jarbawi asks "would the settlers currently occupying Palestinian land [...] be given new rights that Palestinians would have to accept?" So according to Jarbawi it is completely acceptable and logical that Palestinians would seek to guarantee the minority rights and citizenship of Israel's Arab population, but be able to refuse to grant the Jewish population the same rights in a future Palestinian state. He, like Qassem Najjar, simply seems to have a racist objection to the presence of Jews in a Palestinian state.

Jarbawi's final concern is that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would mean relinquishing the "right of return." It would indeed mean at the very least limiting it to numbers Israel can comfortably accept, but as Tobin notes, Jarbawi's vision of ‘peace' is "apparently one in which a Jew-free Palestinian state exists alongside an Israel flooded by Palestinian refugees who would vote the Jewish state out of existence." This is of course in complete contradiction to the two-state solution, and thus a very bad starting point even for a more modest framework agreement. After all, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate itself out of existence, and a two-state "framework" in which one side gets both states is not a genuine two-state resolution at all.

Jarbawi's rejectionist position, however, seems to be very mainstream. Abbas himself expressed similar views very recently. Itamar Marcus wishes to draw our attention to statements made by Abbas earlier this year in Morocco, which were broadcasted on official PA TV, in which he "defined Jewish history in Jerusalem as a ‘delusional myth' and claimed that Israel is trying to invent a Jewish history ‘by brute force.'"

Marcus accurately notes that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have been denying any evidence of Jewish history in the region, especially in Jerusalem. This historical revisionism is being spread in Palestinian media and through the education system. As in Najjar's song, if Palestinians deny all Jewish historical connection to the region and perpetuate the view of Jews as outsiders, of course they cannot recognise the Jewish right to self-determination in the form of a Jewish state. But the corollary of this is that no peace deal can possibly stick unless the Palestinians are willing to shed those elements of their narrative that make Jewish self-determination eternally illegitimate.

As Marcus further explained:

"What must therefore be understood is that the PA's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is ... part of an overarching policy of denying thousands of years of Jewish history in Israel, and thereby denying Israel's right to exist. And although in the Oslo Accords in 1993 the PLO recognized the existence of Israel, the PA differentiates between recognizing that Israel exists and recognizing Israel's right to exist."

This worldview not only effectively makes peace all but impossible, but leads to open hate speech and antisemitism, as evidenced by senior Palestinian official Abbas Zaki, who has close ties with Abbas and is known to speak as a Fatah representative in public events. When asked in an interview on official PA TV earlier this month about recent events in Gaza (the capturing of the Iranian arms shipment to Islamic Jihad, the escalation in shelling from Gaza, and Israel's response) Zaki said that:

"These Israelis have no belief, no principles. They are an advanced instrument of evil. They say, the Holocaust, and so on - fine, why are they doing this to us? Therefore, I believe that Allah, will gather them so we can kill them. I am informing the murderer of his death."

There you have it, according to Zaki the Israelis are apparently "instruments of evil", their actions are somehow comparable with the Holocaust, and therefore they should be gathered and collectively killed by the Palestinians. With such incitement to violence and dehumanisation, talk of mutual recognition and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians seems both light-years away and more necessary than ever.


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