Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 3, 2011 - 12:00am

The response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his flock of spokesmen to international criticism regarding the approval of construction plans for Gilo recalls the joke about the servant who pinched the king's behind. En route to the gallows, the servant apologized: He thought it was the queen's behind.

The Israeli attitude that we can do as we please in Jerusalem is a symptom of the malignant disease that causes Israelis to lose all consciousness, recognition and awareness. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recent speech at the UN General Assembly demonstrated that the Palestinians have contracted the same dreaded disease and are also suffering from a lack of awareness.

The flip side of the Jewish belief that Jerusalem is all ours, and only ours - including the historical "Holy Basin," the Old City and the Palestinian villages that Israel annexed of its own accord - is a complete lack of awareness regarding the Muslim attachment to Jerusalem. In justifying Jewish ownership of all parts of the city under the banner of "unified Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people," Israel damages a central ethos of its neighbors. To the Palestinians, failing to recognize their connection to Jerusalem means erasing their identity. Trying to convince a strict Muslim that this connection is only a few centuries old is like trying to convince an ultra-Orthodox Jew that it is permissible to eat pork on Yom Kippur. The cemeteries are filled with people who disputed religious and national principles.

The verbal sparring between Netanyahu and Abbas reminded me of the woman who frequently told her rebellious son she hoped that when he grew up and had his own children they would treat him the way he treated her. In response, the poor kid would burst into tears. Instead of showing the Israelis and the whole world that they respect (but not necessarily accept ) the beliefs of their neighbors, the Palestinians are imitating their behavior. In his long speech to the United Nations, Netanyahu questioned the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish people's right to a state in the Land of Israel. He said nothing about recognizing the Palestinians' natural right to a state in the same territory.

This was not an oversight. In his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, too, Netanyahu was careful not to make the slightest allusion to the Palestinians' historical rights. In the same breath, he spoke about the connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and "the Palestinian population living within it" - in other words, a demographic problem that must be solved. Abbas showed that he is no slouch when it comes to denying his neighbors' deepest-held belief and hurting their feelings. The Palestinian leader spoke of the Holy Land as the land of the prophets Jesus and Mohammed, but "forgot" Moses.

Somebody explained that Moses was left out of the speech because he never entered the Promised Land. Perhaps. But that is not the way to win over Jews; nor is it to declare that Jewish residents will not be permitted a foothold in Palestine. Do the Palestinians want to copy our new laws, whose purpose is to keep Arab citizens out of Jewish communities? The claim of a few Palestinian politicians that the Temple never stood on Jerusalem's Temple Mount is a mirror image of the Jewish right-wing camp's disregard for the sacredness of Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. Even historical facts that are corroborated by archaeological evidence are irrelevant in such matters.

Mutual recognition of the historical rights and the religious beliefs of both peoples is no less important than two or three square kilometers of territory, one more early warning station of the number of Palestinian refugees that will be permitted to return to their homes. Failure to recognize the legitimacy of the other side's myths leads to a failure to recognize the disease that threatens the existence of these Siamese twins. It nurtures the "no partner for dialogue" attitude and leads to a dead end.

But official mutual recognition must be the product of negotiations, alongside a serious process of reconciliation and education for peace. Otherwise, we will be like the two men in the poem by the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish, who, after falling into a pit together, grab each other by the neck and refuse to let go, even when a poisonous snake starts slithering toward them.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017