The Arafat Precedent

Yasser Arafat ‘definitely’ understood that Israel must preserve its character as a Jewish state.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

One of the interviewers was Haaretz’s editor in chief, the other the paper’s senior diplomatic reporter. Both were first-class professionals with vast experience, and both were lily-white doves. Nevertheless, the two peace-seeking interviewers dared to ask the high-level interviewee a question that’s currently considered beyond the pale in these parts: Should Israel continue to be a Jewish state?

Surprisingly, the evasive interviewee gave a decisive answer: “Definitely.” The two experienced interviewers doubled-checked: Definitely? “Definitely,” confirmed the interviewee, giving an expansive interpretation of the historic decision made by the Palestine National Council 16 years earlier.

Thus it’s no surprise that Haaretz’s lead headline on June 18, 2004 trumpeted his statement: “Arafat: Israel is Jewish.” On the basis of what the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization told David Landau and Akiva Eldar in Ramallah 10 years ago, the paper declared unambiguously that “Yasser Arafat ‘definitely’ understands that Israel must preserve its character as a Jewish state.”

Veteran journalist Amnon Abramovich says the Israeli media lives by the 90-day rule. Under this rule, any article published in the past can be republished as a fresh scoop as long as it hasn’t been published in the past 90 days. So in line with the Abramovich rule, I hereby seek to revive Haaretz’s dramatic scoop: Arafat recognized Israel as a Jewish state. The leader of the Palestinian revolution, president of the Palestinian Authority and commander of the armed struggle accepted the fact that Israel is a Jewish state, and must continue to be one.

Four months after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “gave” my colleague Yoel Marcus the scoop about the disengagement from Gaza, Arafat “gave” my colleagues Landau and Eldar the Jewish state. Half a year before he died, the icon of Palestinian nationalism executed an ideological U-turn and accepted the fact that Israel’s Jewish identity must be preserved.

Huge pressure is now being exerted day and night on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a border he abominates. In parallel, huge pressure must be applied to PA President Mahmoud Abbas to grant the recognition he refuses to grant. Therefore, Arafat’s precedent-setting statement is exceptionally important right now.

What Arafat permitted, Abbas cannot forbid. The current Palestinian Authority president must say explicitly what his predecessor said implicitly. Peace? There won’t be any peace if Abbas doesn’t follow in Arafat’s footsteps and say that Israel is a Jewish state whose Jewish character must be preserved.

Over the past several months, John Kerry has succeeded in doing the impossible. The ambitious U.S. secretary of state demonstrated leadership, determination, creativity and an exceptional spirit of sticking to the mission. Via a unique combination of sticks, carrots and emotional intelligence, he has brought the Israeli prime minister to places no one would have believed it was possible to bring him.

But in order to achieve peace, that same unique combination of sticks, carrots and emotional intelligence must be applied to the Palestinian Authority president. This very day, in Paris, he must be presented with Arafat’s statement to Haaretz and be compelled to adopt it.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking during a ceremony marking the 8th anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death in Ramallah in Nov. 2012.Credit: AP

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