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At Heart of the Matter: Recognition of Israel
Nov. 29 marked 60 years since the United Nations voted to create two separate states -- one Arab and one Jewish -- on a hunk of land in the Middle East. On that fateful night six decades ago, all members of the Jewish yishuv were glued to their radios, holding a sheet of paper divided into three columns. The top of column A read: "In favor"; the top of column B: "Against"; and the top of column C: "Abstained." All were tracking the votes and hoping for the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state. The result was 33 in favor and 13 against.
Despite the time that's passed -- and despite all of Israel's many achievements in the face of great difficulties -- we are still hoping for a better future. Following the Annapolis, Md., peace summit, once again, we are grappling with the same issues we've struggled with after every such meeting, when the concerns between Israelis and Palestinians are put on the table -- namely, Jerusalem, the Palestinian so-called "right of return" and the 1967 borders.
Yet recognition of the Jewish state is still left hanging.
The recognition of the Jewish state by the Arab world -- and especially by Palestinians -- is really the heart of the matter. Despite Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert's statement before the Annapolis talks -- noting that he does not "intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state; this will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state" -- he didn't go home with anything more than what he arrived with.
At every juncture, Palestinians and Arabs love to quote U.N. Resolution 242. It's become the foundation for the land-for-peace formula drafted after the Six-Day War in 1967.
A superficial reading of it seemingly places Palestinian/ Arab brokers of peace in a position of strength. For Arabs, this "legal" prerequisite emphasizes the give and take: If Israel valued peace, then it would return land. If Arabs wanted land, then they would offer peace.
Arabs also love to quote 242 because it is a deceptively simple equation. On one hand, it talks about the exchange of land for peace with Israel, meaning there is room to negotiate. But although we naively believe it also calls for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, that is far from the truth.
Consequently, after their defeat in the 1967 June war, the Arab states under the leadership of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser instituted the infamous "three no's" -- no peace with, no negotiation with and no recognition of Israel.
Occupation of the Mind
The above policy still seems to hold more water than any of the empty promises made over the years. At any time over the past 60 years, the Arab states could have acknowledged the rights of Jews, accepted the U.N. resolution on partition, negotiated the details of coexistence, assisted the Palestinians with their state and received international support -- but in every instance, they refused.
At the end of the day, while we all yearn and pray for peace, the PLO covenant still calls for the destruction of Israel. This only underscores how insincere Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership are when they talk about serious steps toward reform.
At the start of the second intifada, following a deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv, Israeli leader Shimon Peres telephoned Yasser Arafat (who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Peres in 1994) in an attempt to convince him to act against the network of terror that was growing day by day. The conversation did not go well.
Then, Peres asked a question that the Palestinians have not answered until this very day.
"Mr. Arafat," he asked, "what do you want more: a Palestinian State or a Palestinian struggle?"
As long as the Palestinian choice remains one of struggle, the conflict will continue forever, regardless of walls, borders and rights. It is not just the occupation of land that's the principal issue, but the self-imposed occupation of the Palestinian mind as well.
Asaf Romirowsky is the Manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.