[Published 6 July 2010]
As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jets out to Washington for his much anticipated meeting with President Obama one thing is certain - no statement will be issued that will call for Arab concessions on the two critical issues that have been deal breakers for Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the last seven years.
In the absence of any such breakthrough all the photo ops, joint communiques, guards of honour, press conferences, gestures, winks and nods and lavish meals will be of little use in advancing an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The meeting will continue to demonstrate the proven failure of trying to resolve the hardest issues at the end of the negotiations rather than confronting them face on at the beginning of those negotiations.
The two critical - and apparently -insoluble issues relate to :
(i) the recognition by the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Israel as the Jewish National Home - a Jewish state with a Jewish majority open to Jews from all over the world in this and future generations.
(ii)The waiver of the right of millions of Arab refugees and their descendants to return and live in Israel.
Israel made its position on both these issues very clear when it accepted President Bush’s Roadmap in 2003 stating:
“In connection to both the introductory statements and the final settlement, declared references must be made to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel. “
President Bush accepted the strength of Israel’s arguments when President Bush advised Israel’s then Prime Minister of America’s position on these two issues on 14 April 2004:
“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”
The PA has been unwilling to accept Israel - and America’s - position on these critical issues.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made this clear just two weeks ago when addressing a meeting organized by the International Peace Institute in New York.
On recognizing Israel as the Jewish State - Mr Erekat declared:
“Look, we were asked to recognize the state of Israel. When I go to Washington, and I see the embassy, it says in front of the embassy of Israel, it says, “State of Israel.” In London, in Paris, in Cairo, in Amman, wherever you go. If Israel will go to the UN and register its name as the Biblical, 5,700 years Hebrew history of Biblical, united, and call themselves whatever they want, we recognize you as you register your name at the UN. But why do I need to define your character?”
Mr Erekat knows full well that to define Israel as the Jewish State is to give recognition and Arab legitimacy to the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo conference, the Treaty of Sevres and the Mandate for Palestine which 90 years ago called for the reconstitution of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.
Mr Erekat is aware that the PA’s political puppet master - the Palestine Liberation Organization - still contains the following provision in its Charter:
“The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.”
It is incredible that the existence of a Jewish state among 21 Arab States can still today evoke a response like Mr Erekat’s.
What is the point of continuing negotiations with this Arab mindset so defiant, unyielding and uncompromising.
On the issue of the return of refugees to Israel - Mr Erekat declared:
“.. international law doesn’t give governments the right to solve refugee problems. It’s the choice of the refugee. They have to choose whether they are going to go back to 1948 Palestine, stay where they are, third party. But then at the end of the day it is going to be agreed with you. We are not going to force an agreement with you, but you cannot cancel my rights on refugees and trade me with another issue.”
These remarks brought a swift response from Mr Erekat’s co-panellist - Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor:
“This is why I said that the refugees problem is the crux of the matter. This is why I was quite concerned, not to use a tougher term, when I hear from my friend Saeb, and I read from what he said, that he has no right to negotiate the right of refugees. So with whom should I negotiate it? Will it stay hanging over me after there is the agreement? Do we go back to an agreed two-state solution? And then the main problem that brought everything will stay alive? I thought the PLO has a right to say for the refugees what the solution is, and they will be bound by it. If not, we are in deep trouble here. So this is a major issue, and because the whole story began there, when they did not accept ‘48, not ‘67. The very existence of Israel was not acceptable. This is why the PLO was built. And if this is not over, then I find something that I didn’t know when I came to New York two days ago. I hope I didn’t read correctly.”
One would have to be a total fool to fail to realize that with statements being made such as these by the PA - any negotiations to conclude the Roadmap are dead and buried.
Mr Netanyahu should make it clear to President Obama that no further concessions such as extending the moratorium on residential building in the West Bank can be contemplated by Israel until:
(i) Mr Obama publicly affirms the contents of the letter dated 14 April 2004 given by President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon and
(ii) The PA at the very least acknowledges that Mr Erekat’s remarks were his own personal views and do not represent those of the PA.
It is time to stop playing diplomatic games and demand real movement in the negotiations or look to alternative options that can transform the lives of the Arab population living in the West Bank.
If the cat looks dead and smells dead - it is dead. Trying to revive it is a waste of time