Opinion |

Recognizing Palestine: The Right Step for Israel

In order to reach the two-state solution, two countries must exist – and the present situation does not reflect this

Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim
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A Palestinian flag painted on the separation barrier erected by Israel in Bethlehem, Dec. 15, 2017.
A Palestinian flag on Bethlehem's separation barrier. It's impossible to expect a compromise between two nations, or two peoples, who don't recognize each other's existence.Credit: Geraldine Hope Ghelli/Bloomberg
Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim

The Trump administration's decision to initiate plans to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to recognize that city as the capital of Israeli is one in a series of weighty geopolitical decisions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision illustrates perfectly that every proactive step taken by someone from outside the region favors one of the two parties and disappoints the other. It leads to euphoria on one side and violence on the other.

If this decision is not met with resolute and unambiguous opposition, the possibility of putting an end to the conflict will fade away. The renewal of the violence in the wake of the U.S. decision and the international responses that it aroused, prove that all parties involved need to reexamine certain aspects of the conflict. For decades the international community has been discussing the possibility of the two-state solution. So it is obvious to ask: Where is the second country?

This issue is especially important because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is different from many other disputes around the world. Conflicts are usually created between two countries or between people fighting over borders or resources such as water or oil. But in this case the conflict is not between two countries but between two peoples who both insist with the same amount of determination that they have a right to hold this small piece of land and to live there – preferably without the other. This is why there cannot just be a military or political solution to the conflict, only a human solution.

The facts of the conflict are known, and there is no need to list them. The 1947 Partition Plan proposed by the United Nations was rejected at the time by the entire Arab world. It is possible that the resolution or the response to it was a mistake, but for the Palestinians it was a disaster. Nonetheless, the decision was made and we have all been forced to live with its implications.

The Palestinians relinquished their demands for sovereignty over all of Palestine a long time ago, and have agreed to divide it up. Israel, by comparison, continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian-owned land, and thus reveals that it is not willing to adopt a similar concession.

There is a certain amount of symmetry in a few aspects of the conflict, while other aspects have no symmetry: Israel is a powerful country and because of that it must bear a greater amount of responsibility. No one doubts its right to exist, even if the world is split over the question of how to approach Israel.

On one hand, there are countries that felt and still feel guilt about the brutal treatment the Jews experienced in Europe, and we must praise this. On the other hand, Holocaust denial still exists and it feeds a number of the most extreme organizations in the Arab world, and deepens despair among Jews.

Still, despite justified criticism of the Palestinians' hostility toward Israel, this hostility should not be viewed as an offshoot of European anti-Semitism.

In light of the recent unilateral move by the United States, I call on the rest of the world and say: Recognize Palestine as a sovereign nation exactly as you recognize Israel as a nation. It is impossible to expect a compromise between the two nations – or between the two peoples – who do not recognize the existence of one another.

In order to reach the two-state solution, two countries must exist – and the present situation does not reflect this. Palestine has been under occupation for 50 years now, and we cannot expect the Palestinians to conduct negotiations under the current circumstances. All the countries seriously interested in the two-state solution must recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, and at the same time call for the immediate opening of serious negotiations.

Unilateral steps like the American decision can only escalate the situation because they plant in the hearts of one side a false hope and increase the despair of the other side. They should be viewed as noting but a provocation.

Had historical events not gone as they have over the past 70 years, a binational state could have been considered as a solution. But the two sides’ hesitation with respect to supporting such a possibility shows that the two-state solution is the only viable solution – and two independent states are a pre-requisite for this. Two states, existing side by side equally – this is the only way to ensure a fair life for Palestinians and security for Israel.

Regarding Jerusalem, there is a logical solution: Jerusalem is just as holy to Jews as it is to Muslims and Christians. In the framework of the two-state solution, I see no reason why West Jerusalem shouldn’t be the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.

I therefore appeal to all the great nations that have yet to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state and ask that they do so now, and at the same time pledge to open negotiations on borders and the other core issues. This would not be a move against Israel – far from it. It would be a move toward a solution acceptable to both countries. Clearly, both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, would have to show an equal desire to achieve peace. A solution cannot be imposed upon the parties from outside.

Thus I call on Israel and the Palestinians to unequivocally declare that they have had enough of the decades-long conflict, and that they truly yearn for peace.

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