Prof. Shlomo Avineri fully adopts the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who conditions a peace agreement with the Palestinians on their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. In his article, Avineri writes that no Palestinian leader has expressed remorse that the Palestinians rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947 for a Jewish state and an Arab state, and he claims that in no negotiations with the Palestinians was there any agreement on a different position.
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His main mistake is one of principle: Avineri repeats the mistaken attempt to present the Palestinians as a single bloc. He says the Palestinians view the Jews as being of one religion but not one people, and therefore they believe the Jews do not have the right to a state.
Avineri certainly is aware that very many Jews, in Israel and outside it, believe with all their heart the hollow words of Golda Meir, in which no Palestinian people exists and so they have no right to a state. After all, the things he writes about the “Palestinians” a respected Palestinian historian can write about the “Jews” or about the “Israelis.” The truth is that there are Palestinians who answer Avineri’s description, and are those who do not. We must not generalize.
His second mistake is in ignoring the words of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who a few years ago said in a media interview that the Palestinian leadership made a mistake in 1947 when it rejected the UN Partition Plan. Abbas, by the way, is not the only one to say in public what many of his colleagues say in informal conversations. This makes Avineri’s mistake a factual one and not just one of interpretation.
His third mistake concerns the Palestinian willingness to describe Israel as a Jewish state, or to relate to the Jewish nationality and the Jewish people. In the Palestinian “Declaration of Independence” from November 18, 1988, it states explicitly that the decision on the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly in November 1947 provides a legitimate basis for the Palestinian demand for sovereignty and independence.
It is not a coincidence that this very same section relates to the decision to divide the land between an Arab state and a Jewish state. These words, which the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, were not written by chance, but out of a desire to make it clear to the UN General Assembly that there has been a change in the PLO’s approach to Israel. The national unity government headed by Yitzhak Shamir belittled this change, exactly as did another unity government, headed by Ariel Sharon, which rejected the Arab peace initiative in 2002.
In various negotiations over the final agreement held after the Oslo Accords, when the issue of the Jewish state arose, our Palestinian counterparts told us that as far as they were concerned there was no doubt that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, but they added that Arab Knesset members pointed out a problem to them: Such recognition could well give validity to discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.
This was the reason that in the Geneva Initiative of 2003, the following phrasing was accepted: “Affirming that this agreement marks the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to statehood and the recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, without prejudice to the equal rights of the Parties’ respective citizens.”
In order to be sure that we are speaking about Israel and not on a country located elsewhere, the second article of the Geneva Initiative states: “The Parties recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples. The Parties are committed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.”
I am convinced that such statements can also appear in an official peace agreement between the two sides, if there are leaders who will dedicate heart and soul to reaching such an agreement. What has happened is that Netanyahu, in his wisdom, has turned the matter of the Jewish state, which is not in real disagreement, into a sort of cornerstone; has turned the leadership of the Arab world against us, which fears that behind this demand is some sort of conspiracy; has made the issue much more complicated that it was in the past; and has succeeded in fooling even such respected and experienced people as Professor Avineri.