Mahmoud Abbas AP Sept. 23, 2010
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the UN General Assembly, Sept. 23, 2010 Photo by AP
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Dear Mr. Abbas,

Generally I write to my fellow Jews and Israelis for our high holidays. For you Yom Kippur is, of course, not a day of reckoning, but I hope you will accept these words from an Israeli who has sponsored your cause for years with all his heart. I have done so no less for the sake for my country than for your country that has yet to come into being.

Because a State of Israel that oppresses another people is an affront to my Jewishness, and that of the majority of Jews worldwide for whom human rights are an inviolable value – precisely because our people has suffered immensely from bigotry and racism.

Given my sympathy for your cause, I hope you will listen to my call to you; you know, as well as anybody else, that the two-state solution is running out of oxygen. If it is not implemented soon, it will die.

You will not get a viable Palestinian state from Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s against his ideology. Your success depends on convincing Israelis that they must elect another government, and there is only one way you can do this.

In your speech at the UN you spoke to your own people. Now you must speak to Israelis. You must take the step Anwar Sadat took. You must come to the Knesset and tell Israelis that you recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s homeland.

Tell Israelis that the Palestinian people demand that their tragedy of 1948 be acknowledged and recognized, but that you do not demand physical return of refugees to Israel; that individual Palestinians can claim compensation for the loss of their homes, but that, as was the case in Europe after WWII, you recognize that physical return is no longer an option.

You certainly know that for at least a decade, seventy percent of Israelis have believed that two states for two people is the only way to peace, and that the same proportion thinks that in this generation there is no Palestinian partner for peace. The main reason is the second intifada. Less than two years ago you admitted that this uprising was the greatest mistake Palestinians ever made, and you are right - Israelis, ever since, have no longer trusted Palestinian intentions.

The other reason is that Israelis believe that for most Palestinians the two-state solution is but the first step in a two-stage process to abolish Israel as a Jewish state; that once Palestine is recognized along the 1967 borders, your people will continue to attack Israel physically and diplomatically; that you will insist that every Palestinian refugee around the world has the right to return to the lands and houses of their forefathers; that you will never accept Israel’s legitimacy as the homeland of the Jewish people.

As a result they ask, why take the security risks involved in implementing the two-state solution in which Tel Aviv and Ra'anana are within the range of Palestinian rocket attacks? And you know very well that this is not just a paranoid fear - the South of Israel has been shelled for years following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

I believe that Israel must take the security risk involved, that it has the military strength to deal with these risks if your Palestinian brethren decide to return to the path of violence. I believe that Israel must take this risk because this is the only way that Israel can remain the democratic homeland of the Jews; because a democratic Israel can only exist if Palestinians have their own state.

But here comes the crucial point. I know that the Palestinian right of return is firmly etched into your people’s ethos; that this right has been at the core of your people’s history, songs, books and stories.

You, Mr. Abbas, know that Israelis will never accept the right of return. This, for them, is a red line they will never cross. Today, the vast majority of Israelis were born here. In the last six decades, a vibrant culture has come into being here. They have nowhere to go – and they don’t want to go anywhere. This is their home, and they will fight for it without compromise.

This is not the just the view of people like Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, for whom, as you know, I have little sympathy. It is the view of Tzipi Livni, of Shaul Mofaz and Shelly Yechimovich. You need to realize that it is even the view of the three remaining MKs of Meretz, Israel’s party most committed to liberal values.

You are faced with a terrible dilemma, Mr. Abbas. Your legitimacy as leader of the Palestinian people seems to depend on not renouncing the right of return. Your success in establishing a state for your people depends on convincing Israelis that you accept Israel as the homeland of the Jews.

It will also help you gain support from EU countries, who would be more inclined to support your bid for UN recognition if it were connected to recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. You may remember that Spain, the country spearheading support for your UN bid, also just recognized Israel as a Jewish state – and you might take this as a lead for a fruitful line of action.

Mr. Abbas, I know that this proposal is very difficult for you to accept. I write to you on the eve of Yom Kippur, because my heart is weary and full of sorrow, because I see the two-state solution slipping away, and along with it the State of Israel as I had hoped to see it – and the State of Palestine that I believe your people deserves.

I hope you will find the strength to make this historic step. For the sake of your people, and mine.