In a recent Knesset debate, despite the customary efforts of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog to differentiate their political positions, it emerged that actually both oppose creating a Palestinian state under prevailing conditions.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position on this is well-known ever since he stated as much last year, in the run-up to the Israeli elections that confirmed him in office, but Mr. Herzog’s statement was new. Mr. Herzog said, “The vision of two states is not dead, but it won’t happen tomorrow, surely not as long as you and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] are afraid to make a move.”
Two aspects of this statement are noteworthy.
First, Palestinians are not reconciled to the idea that a Jewish state can and will exist alongside a Palestinian one. This is reflected in Palestinian polling. A June 2015 Palestine Center for Public Opinion poll found that 49% of Palestinians seek a Palestine in place of Israel, while only 29% seek one alongside Israel — and even many of those who seek a neighboring state do not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state: 88% of Palestinians say Jews have no rights to the land at all.
Second, the assertion that the Israeli government, like Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA), is “afraid” to move on peace highlights the method with which the Israeli leftwing has clung to the talisman of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel, irrespective of the conditions on the Palestinian side. As the polls show, it is a matter of Palestinian conviction, not fear, that prevents a peace settlement.
The truth is that successive Israeli governments, Likud and Labor, have all “made a move” in favor of concessions to the PA, sometimes unilaterally, in the hope of securing an eventual agreement. Israeli governments in 2000 and 2008 both advanced proposals for Palestinian statehood throughout Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, only to have encountered a PA refusal to accept the plan or to propose an alternative one.
The Netanyahu government has offered unconditional talks and even unilaterally halted Jewish construction in the West Bank just to get the PA to come to the negotiating table. The PA did so — for less than a week. Were the PA willing to negotiate a peace agreement today, the Israeli government, whatever its justified misgivings about Palestinian intentions, would feel almost duty-bound to act on this and negotiate a peace settlement.
In short, there is no fear of acting; merely justified lack of faith, given the demonstrable facts of Palestinian rejection of the legitimacy and permanence of Israeli statehood and Jewish national existence, of which it is worth reminding ourselves:
- PA maps, official stationery, atlases and two recent PA-commissioned Fatah emblems depict all Israel as ‘Palestine.’
- In March 2009, PA/Fatah senior official Muhammad Dahlan declared that “we demand of the Hamas movement not to recognize Israel, because the Fatah movement does not recognize Israel, even today.”
- In April 2009, regarding recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas declared, “I will not accept it.”
- In July 2010, Abbas told Arab journalists, “If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor.”
- During September-October 2011, PA ambassador to Iran, Salah Zawawi, the PA ambassador to Brazil, Alzeben Ibrahim, and the former PA ambassador to Lebanon, Abbas Zaki, all declared publicly that Israel will be destroyed.
- In July 2013, Abbas, reiterating a position he had enunciated already in 2010, stated, “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.”
- In January 2014, Abbas declared that, even if a Palestinian state is established, there would be no compromise or relinquishing of the deal-breaking ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees of the 1948-9 war and their millions of descendants, which would end Israel as a Jewish state.
- In March 2014, Abbas reiterated that he will neither accept Israel as a Jewish state, nor conclude a comprehensive peace if it means signing an ‘end of claims’ clause.
- In June 2014, Abbas’ sought out a new alliance with Hamas, whose Charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.
- In September 2015, Abbas incited a wave of terrorism when he spoke of a wholly imaginary “fierce attack taking place against the Al-Aqsa Mosque” and then, in a speech broadcast on PA TV, declaimed that “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours … and [the Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet … We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem … blood spilled for Allah.”
PA or Israeli fear of “making a move” on Palestinian statehood is not the issue: Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state is the heart of the problem.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).