Shlomo Avineri
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 4, 2012 - 1:00am

Following is the speech that the prime minister of Israel should have delivered at the UN General Assembly after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' address:

"I would like to congratulate the president of the Palestinian Authority on the courageous step you took. In coming to the UN General Assembly seeking recognition of Palestine as a nonmember state, you have embarked on the path toward a historic compromise between the Jewish national movement - Zionism - and the Palestinian national movement.

"We are looking toward the future, but we cannot ignore history. How much pain and suffering would have been avoided, for both peoples, had the Palestinian movement accepted the United Nations' partition plan on November 29, 1947, rather than 65 years later. Instead, the Palestinian national movement and the Arab League waged war not only against Israel, but also against the UN decision.

"Had the Palestinian movement accepted the idea of two states for two peoples back then, as we did, the war of 1948, which you call the Nakba, would not have taken place. The refugee problem would not have been created, tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides would not have been killed, the Arab countries would not have gotten entangled in war, and on May 15, 1948, two states would have been established on the territory of the British Mandate: Israel and Palestine, one alongside the other.

"Moreover, had the PLO leadership heeded the call of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and joined him in his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, it would have been possible, in the atmosphere of reconciliation that prevailed, to begin to resolve the conflict between our two national movements.

"But we are looking toward the future. I know that there are many points of disagreement between us, and because of these we have failed to reach an agreement until now. But with an honest desire for peace and with the international recognition you have now received, these disagreements can be resolved by negotiations between us. I therefore call on you, sir, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and your entourage, to join me on my plane and return to the Middle East together. Over the long flight, we will be able to clarify between us a few of the principles ahead of the negotiations. At Ben-Gurion International Airport you will be welcomed like royalty, just like Sadat - the first person who had the courage to accept the historical reality of the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Israel responded accordingly, and with a far-reaching willingness to compromise.

"I propose that we travel together from the airport to the Knesset. In the name of the Knesset and in the name of all the people of Israel, I invite you to bring a message of peace and reconciliation to your nation and mine. It is clear to me that, just as the Israeli public saw Sadat as a messenger of peace and reconciliation, that is how they will see you. Because it is the people of Israel - not the countries of the world - whom you must convince that you have chosen a path of reconciliation and compromise after so many years of animosity and refusal.

"I have no illusions that the path will be easy. The problems we face are complex, and they are not limited to territorial issues. But from the moment it becomes clear both to us and to you that each side accepts the legitimacy of the other, there will be an opening for reconciliation, even if it is difficult and complicated to get there.

"You have already come a long way, Mr. President. In the name of the people of Israel, in all their diversity, I would like to congratulate you. Let us say clearly and unequivocally that there is room for two states in our region: the Jewish nation-state and the Palestinian nation-state. The key is in our hands - in your hand, Mr. President."

This speech, of course, was not delivered. Because that would require courage, wisdom and a Zionism that combines vision with realism - the Zionism of David Ben-Gurion, who led the way to Israel's independence by accepting the partition plan, and of Menachem Begin, who welcomed Sadat to Jerusalem even as he gave up all of Sinai. How painful it is to realize that these qualities, which guarantee these two leaders a place in history, are so lacking in the prime minister of Israel today.


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