By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Let’s imagine, at least for a brief moment, that at this Sunday’s meeting of the Netanyahu cabinet, the prime minister will announce that he has decided not to insist that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for a peace settlement. According to the lead story in Saturday’s Times of Israel, such a declaration would in no way advance the peace process.
For it reports that the Abu Mazen, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, told Barack Obama, the president of the United States, during their encounter earlier this week in the White House that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is only one of three issues on which the Palestinians won’t yield. The two others are their claim to the right to return to their lands and homes in what’s now the State of Israel, and, thirdly, their refusal to consider any agreement to mark the end of the conflict.
The three are, of course, linked. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would render the claim to the right of return obsolete, for that claim is based on the ideology that the Jews have usurped the Palestinians in the land. For them the country is Palestinian, not Jewish. And as long as that ideology is current, an end to the conflict isn’t possible.
If the report is true, the claim that Israel has no partner for peace seems to be correct. Even if Israel decides to drop the claim to be recognized as a Jewish state, allowing the Palestinians who left or were driven out in 1948 – and their descendants! –to return to Israel would mean that Jews would once again be a minority in what they consider to be their ancestral home. That’s not on the cards under any circumstances.
Even Abu Mazen must know that this isn’t going to happen. That’s why as long as it hasn’t happened, as far as he’s concerned, the conflict hasn’t come to an end.
Let’s now imagine that after a good rest after his arduous flight from Washington, Abu Mazen wakes up to reality and declares that (a) he agrees to Israel being a Jewish state and, therefore, by implication (b) drops the claim of the right to return and (c) accepts that thereby the conflict has come to an end. For him this would be equivalent to committing suicide, not only politically but literally. Palestinians that live by the fantasy of returning to what they consider to be their homeland would dispose of anybody who even implicitly disregards that. Therefore, even if Abu Mazen wanted to agree with the Israelis and the Americans, he cannot do so and stay alive.
His arch-enemy and successor-in-waiting is Mohammad Dahlan. The same issue of the Times of Israel also speculates that, to neutralize Dahlan, Abu Mazen would like to get Marwan Barghouti out of jail in Israel in the belief that only he can stop Dahlan.
Barghouti may indeed be the man to make peace with Israel. Though he’s no Nelson Mandela, he may be sufficiently pragmatic and “charismatic” to strike a deal with Israel. And because he’s said to be popular both in the West Bank and in Gaza, he might be able to unite Fatah (that dominates the West Bank) and Hamas (that rules Gaza) thus creating a viable Palestinians state living side-by-side with Israel.
Even if this is a correct assessment, Israel releasing any more prisoner, let alone Barghouti who is serving multiple life sentences, is very unlikely in the present climate. Thus the sad conclusion that, however you wish to look at the present situation, the status quo will continue and Abu Mazen will win on at least one point: no end to the conflict.