Ghassan Khatib
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
October 25, 2010 - 12:00am

Although Palestinians explain in various ways their rejection of the recent demand by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, there appears to be a consensus of opposition. When Netanyahu recently repeated this request as a condition for implementing an internationally-required settlement freeze, there were two Palestinian approaches.

The first, and the most widespread, was to reject this condition for fundamental reasons. Number one, adopting such a position will undermine the Palestinian demand that the right of return for Palestinian refugees be implemented according to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.

Second, such a position would also harm Palestinians in Israel, which comprise one-fifth of the population and have already been subjugated to all kinds of racist attitudes and positions by both society and the state itself.

Third, this demand reflects a racist attitude that cannot be accepted by Palestinians on a moral basis alone.

Another set of responses to this Israeli condition believe it should be refused because it is irrelevant, particularly since the Palestine Liberation Organization , which was party to all signed agreements with Israel, already recognized Israel in 1993 in the exact way Israel is recognized in the United Nations and by other states in the world. Such a request wasn’t presented by Israel at that time.

Now this is all part of the history of the peace process, where Israel responded to the official letter of recognition by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with a letter from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recognizing the PLO. That was the first time Israel recognized the Palestinians as a people and the PLO as their representative.

Still other Palestinians responded to the Israel request by challenging Israel to specify the borders upon which it needs to be recognized. That challenge is tough for Israel to answer because it has never specified official borders--neither before nor after its illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem.

In sum, the underlying assumption among Palestinians is that this Israeli request, in addition to undermining and preempting certain legitimate Palestinian objectives, aims at putting additional sticks in the wheels of the peace process that the United States and the rest of the international community are trying to initiate. The reason behind this is that the politics of the current right wing Israeli government are completely incompatible with the world consensus and stipulations of the resolutions of the Security Council. And thus, the Israeli government is doing its best to avoid engagement in negotiations by adding daily prerequisites or obstacles.

States are not usually recognized on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, but rather on the basis of their national character. The United Nations and international law should be the references for this process.

As such, it is about time that the international community--led by the United States--confront Israel with two choices: either Israel agrees to engage seriously in negotiating a final settlement with Palestinians on the basis of defined agreements, the roadmap, and relevant Security Council resolutions. Or the international community takes a direct role in helping Palestinians materialize their independent state both by continuing to help the Palestinian government in its efforts to build state institutions and prepare for independence, and at the appropriate time adopting a resolution in the Security Council recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

While Palestinians prefer and give priority to the first option, it has to be made clear to Israel that peace based on two states cannot be kept hostage forever to the whims of the occupier. Israel itself was not established through agreement between two parties but through a combination of the state institutions that Jewish groups managed to establish under the British Mandate, and United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 that partitioned historic Palestine into two states.


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