Last night I stayed up and hung around waiting for the State Dept. background briefing on the status of the Mideast Quartet meeting to take place. Originally scheduled for 9pm, it didn’t take place till quite a bit later. By the time I almost gave up, I got word it had started and called in- the whole thing was on “background” but the gist of the conversation with two unnamed State Dept. officials was that:
a) Secretary Clinton was just using the meeting as an opportunity to swap ideas with the Quartet regarding how to move forward;
b) No statement would be issued because they decided now was not the time for a public statement, but rather they would rely on “quiet” diplomacy with the parties (separately);
d) Dennis Ross and David Hale would be going back to the region to continue to try to move things forward;
d) The parties are too far apart to come to negotiations
As I wrote yesterday, the main purpose of the Mideast Quartet of late seems to be to serve as an echo-chamber for Israeli interests. It’s no secret that the State Dept. has been blowing off any other attempts by other nations (like France, the EU) to jump-start talks because Israel doesn’t want any other country but the U.S. being in charge. Naturally. I predicted that this most recent Quartet meeting would be a wash and that no statement would be issued because Israel had made clear it didn’t want any public pressure from the Quartet. I was right.
But notice in my rather sparse summary of the points made during the conference call, that there is no reference to demanding Israel be acknowledged as a “Jewish state.” That didn’t come up at all during the call. But according to Haaretz this evening, that was the main reason the U.S. wouldn’t allow a statement to be issued after the meeting:
The foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet failed to reach an agreement on Monday surrounding the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and therefore did not issue a public statement on their meeting meant to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Western diplomats and senior officials in Jerusalem said Tuesday.
“The goal was to give each side something that was important to them,” a Western diplomat said. “The Palestinians were supposed to get 1967 borders with land swaps and the Israelis wanted to receive in return the recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland, but there was no agreement on this matter.”
What is interesting about this is that 1967 borders with land swaps is not a “give” to the Palestinians. 1967 is long-standing U.S. policy and it is merely a starting point and depending on how things go, the Palestinians could still end up with only pockets of land, no contiguous borders, Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley and no East Jerusalem etc. It’s merely a framework for where to begin negotiations. But for Israel and the U.S. to demand the Palestinians essentially concede any right of return up front, is unfair. It may very well be that the Palestinians do have to give up the right of return, but that is a final status issue.
I wrote about why, in my opinion, the Palestinians shouldn’t have to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state here. And just to be clear, this isn’t about the Palestinians (the PA/Fatah) not recognizing Israel’s sovereign right to exist- they’ve already done that. Rather, this is about requiring the Palestinians to do something up front that no other nation has been required to do. Jordan was not required to recognize Israel solely as a Jewish state, nor was Egypt or anyone else. So that begs the questions, why are they (the U.S. and Israel) suddenly adopting the Zionist talking points moving the goal posts? Keep in mind, this was never a requirement in past peace negotiations. Rather, it is a relatively new diplomatic hurdle foisted upon the Palestinians.
Well, according to foreign policy wonks, Israelis and Palestinians who know a lot more about this than I do, such a requirement would essentially mean that my Jewish partner, an American citizen, who has traveled to Israel 3 times during her whole life, would have more rights to citizenship and all the privileges that provides (under the Law of Return for Jews), than Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen, who was born in Safed and has lived in the Occupied Territories his entire life, would have simply based upon religion/ethnicity (a point which Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar made recently in Haaretz). To Barack Obama’s credit, back in 2010 he seemed to understand this concern about equal rights for any Arab minority that remains in Israel, but he has since backed off that, likely due to pressure from the Israel Lobby.
According to Hussein Ibish over at Foreign Policy:
Moreover, Palestinians are concerned that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state might be seen as endorsing discrimination against the Palestinian minority in Israel, which is approximately 20 percent of the population. They point out that Jewish Israelis do not agree at all on what the Jewish character of Israel means. Important sections of Israeli law, life, and society are structured in a discriminatory manner based on “nationality” (i.e., “Jewish,” “Arab,” and scores of other classifications made by the state) as opposed to citizenship. This discrimination applies to housing, education, military service and its many benefits, access to publicly owned lands and other important aspects of social and economic life. Palestinians are understandably uncomfortable with anything that might smack of acquiescence to these structures of discrimination that permeate Israeli society in favor of those classified by the state as “Jewish.”
For decades, Palestinians were told to recognize Israel and renounce violence, and through their sole legitimate international representative, the PLO, they did so almost 20 years ago, even though it meant effectively renouncing claims on a full 78 percent of the country in which they had been a large majority in 1948. They did this on the understanding that it would lead, in short order, to their own independence in an excruciatingly small part of what they regard, with impeccable historical credentials, as their own country. That has not transpired and does not appear imminent. Now they are being told that they have not done enough, that this novel concept is now the defining issue, that they once again have to read from a script being handed to them by Israeli leaders, and that if they will only say the new magic words the problem will be solved.
…the official PA/PLO position is that how Israel defines itself is not a Palestinian concern, and that the Palestinians cannot accede to this demand on two basic grounds: First, because it prejudices the political and civic rights of Israel’s Arab citizens comprising 20 percent of the population whose second-class status would be consolidated by dint of recognition of the “Jewishness ” of the state;
First, and perhaps most importantly, if Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, then the lands that it occupies today — and perhaps more as there are as yet no borders to this homeland — belong to this people by way of right. But if these lands rightfully comprise the Jewish homeland then the Arab presence there becomes historically aberrant and contingent; the Palestinians effectively become historic interlopers and trespassers — a transient presence on someone else’s national soil.
This is not a moot or exaggerated point. It touches on the very core of the conflict and its genesis. Indeed, it is the heart of the Zionist claim to Palestine: Palestine belongs to the Jews and their right to the land is antecedent and superior to that of the Arabs — this is what Zionism is about and what justifies both the Jewish return to the land and the dispossession of its Arab inhabitants.
Furthermore, this gives Israel the right to demand a measure of retributive justice; the Palestinians started the conflict and they should pay for their “sins”. The refugees should pay for their dispossession and the Palestinians should lose their claim to equality and equivalence in any political settlement premised on supposedly painful or generous Israeli concessions. The putative Palestinian state should not be allowed what Israel allows itself, whether this is the right to self-defense or the right to be free from foreign (Israeli) military or civilian presence on its soil.
According to UN resolution 242, the requirement is that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” As noted above, they have already done that (Hamas has not).
Note: For an excellent counter-argument to some of the issues above, see Jerome Slater’s very balanced post here.