The Right Questions

Whether the Palestinians accept Israel's right to self-determination, or even its existence, is missing the point of the peace talks, but still raises an important issue.

I am not sure whether it was prudent or right to demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state in the framework of peace negotiations. However, since the question has been raised, it is impossible to ignore the absolute, blunt negative responses delivered by Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat and the Arab League. Since the root of the dispute is Arab unwillingness to accept the Jewish people's right to self-determination, or even to recognize the Jewish people's existence, it is clear that this is not a simple problem.

Since the Palestinians are raising questions about the Jews' very right to self-determination, perhaps some questions, however difficult and complex, for the Palestinians might be in order. Let there be no misunderstanding: Just as the question of Jewish self-determination is one for Jews alone to answer, so too is Palestinian self-determination an issue for Palestinians, not Jews, to decide. But Jews have the right to ask some questions in this regard.

The first question is directed at the Palestinian negotiators. I hope that despite all the obstacles, an independent Palestinian state will ultimately arise alongside the State of Israel.

However, since in Arab consciousness the term "Palestine" includes the entire territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and not just the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which will make up the future Palestinian state, Palestinian leaders should be asked whether it is clear to them that the territory of Israel proper is not part of Palestine, and should not be presented as such in the Palestinian narrative and in Palestinian schools. Just as a majority of Israel's Jewish citizens distinguish between "the State of Israel" and "the Land of Israel," it should be clear to us, and to them, that Acre and Jaffa and Be'er Sheva are not part of Palestine.

This is a complicated issue. But if in their independent state, the Palestinians continue to view the territory of the State of Israel as "occupied territory" that belongs to the Palestinian homeland, this will obviously not facilitate the process of mutual reconciliation.

The second question is directed at Israel's Arab citizens. Some of their leaders prefer to refer to themselves as "Palestinian citizens of Israel," and that, of course, is their right. But it is impossible to ignore the fact that following the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, this definition is liable to seem problematic. Does this definition mean they will view the independent state of Palestine as their country and their homeland? Does it also mean that, in the final analysis, they view the areas where they live - the Galilee, Acre, Jaffa and elsewhere - as part of Palestine, which by that point will be a political entity and not just a geographic region?

Granted, the modern liberal world allows multiple identities (as who knows better than the Jews? ). But the issue is far from simple. In a climate fraught with historical tensions, some clarifications could advance Israeli Arabs' acceptance as equal citizens - a challenge that will only become more pressing for Israel after independent Palestine is established, since then, Israel's various security-oriented excuses will no longer have the same weight and validity.

These are difficult questions, and the very fact of raising them could be interpreted as an attempt to complicate the negotiations. But I believe the opposite is the case: Anyone who, like me, supports a solution of two states for two peoples and wants to see Arab citizens of Israel gain full civic equality can, and perhaps even must, pose them.