The Palestinian Position Is Important

We only ask of the Palestinians that which we ourselves have done in the past.

Prof. Shimon Shamir is right ("Ask Mustafa Khalil," August 17) in stating that, "It is not our concern if Egypt defines itself as Islamic, Arab, African or pharaonic. We recognize Egypt as a political entity..." Based on this premise, Shamir makes the case that we are not to demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Yet the analogy is not valid for a number of reasons.

First, Israel has never called into question the existence of the Egyptian political entity. On the other hand, the Palestinians, through their rejection of the UN Partition Plan, refused to recognize the Jewish state and embarked on a war to destroy it. This is, after all, the root of the conflict. Indeed, the Palestinian narrative is based on the rejection of the existence of a Jewish nation state in any part of the territory they call Palestine.

If you declared war against the Jewish state, does not the signing of a peace treaty with that state obligate you to accept it? This does not mean the Palestinians are asked to accept the Zionist narrative, but it is incumbent upon them to alter their narrative, which rules out the existence of a Jewish state.

This is exactly what Israel did at Camp David and Oslo. Under the terms of binding international agreements, Israel has committed itself to recognizing "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arab nation." Menachem Begin was the first to do this. For many Zionists, and not just those who were schooled in the ideological camp of Herut, this was difficult. In contrast to what is thought in extreme rightist circles, this is not tantamount to relinquishing the Zionist narrative, it is a willingness to accept the legitimacy of a competing narrative and to seek a compromise.

We only ask of the Palestinians that which we ourselves have done in the past.

As foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who supported the principle of two nation states for two peoples, always mentioned that this entailed Palestinian recognition of Israel as a state of the Jewish people. Benjamin Netanyahu is not the first to broach the idea. It remains uncertain whether he acted wisely in the manner he gave the issue such prominence, but what shocked many Israelis - not just Likud members - was the blunt and vulgar response given by official Palestinian spokespeople.

In their ferociously negative response, Shamir claims that the Palestinians "fell into the trap that those who demanded recognition of a Jewish state had set for them." Yet apparently there was no fall into any rhetorical trap. Rather, this was an expression of a deep, internal ideological truth that to this day refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish people's right to self-determination. Because as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Jews are not a nation, but rather a religious-ethnic group.

Yet the Palestinians must understand that just as Golda Meir claimed that "there is no Palestinian people," the same response applies to their view of the Jewish people. If they define themselves as a nation, then they are a nation.

Shamir is correct in stating that "our existence does not depend on what they say." But their opinion and their position are important. Peace is made between enemies. The Palestinians fought the Jewish state, and if they truly and sincerely wish to forge peace, they must be willing to come to terms with the Jewish state, and to do so explicitly, without stuttering.

Obviously this is not simple, but neither the Partition Plan nor the acceptance of the principle of two states for two peoples is a simple matter for many Jews and Zionists. But this is what is urgently needed.