At the start of yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned that it was the anniversary of the United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947. As usual, he described it as the UN’s decision to recognize “a Jewish state in the Land of Israel” — the state that was declared five and a half months later by the pre-state Jewish leadership headed by David Ben-Gurion. Netanyahu drew a parallel between terrorism then and today. “What drives this terrorism is opposition to the existence of the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People within any borders,” he said, and reiterated his commitment to passing the racist nation-state bill.
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Netanyahu conveniently forgot some important elements of the UN’s partition resolution. Its background, as is well-known, includes Ben-Gurion’s willingness to concede parts of the Land of Israel. Netanyahu’s antecedents in the Revisionist movement resisted and even employed terror against both the British Mandatory government and against Arabs, some of whom engaged in terror against Jews. When Britain decided to terminate the mandate, the UN decided to establish three entities in the Land of Israel: two states (one Jewish, one Arab), and Jerusalem as an international city.
Arab opposition to Israel’s establishment led to the 1948 War of Independence and a quarter-century of war thereafter. But peace with Egypt in exchange for the land Israel had captured from it in the 1967 Six-Day War proved the validity of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which ended that war: It was possible to exchange territory captured by Israel for Arab acquiescence to Israel’s existence.
A few years after Jordan’s King Hussein renounced his involvement in the West Bank, a peace treaty was also signed with Jordan. It followed on the heels of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which were signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Netanyahu is being misleading when he suggests that Islam is necessarily a bitter enemy of Israel. Cairo and Amman are capitals of states with large Muslim majorities. Netanyahu also negotiated with the Syrian regime on a land-for-peace deal, but those negotiations were cut short by disagreement over the extent of Israel’s withdrawal in the Golan Heights.
Not all Palestinians are prepared for a compromise over the size and borders of their state, but their current leader, Mahmoud Abbas, represents a realistic hope of obtaining such a compromise. The condition Netanyahu has set, of recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, is designed to thwart this compromise.
Israel doesn’t need outside recognition of its internal system of government, especially since it has ignored the partition resolution’s instruction that it (and Palestine) should enact a constitution. Israel has enacted the Law of Return, under which Jews who live abroad can immigrate to it and obtain instant citizenship. That’s enough.
With certain changes necessitated by the seven decades that have passed, we would be well advised to return to the spirit of the partition resolution, establish two states and institute joint arrangements in the two halves of Jerusalem, which will be the capital of both. Only then can Netanyahu truly fly the flag of November 29.