Posted on: October 18, 2010 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 2

Israeli Blogger Yaacov Lozowick sent a challenge over Twitter on Sunday to my arguments about Israel’s demand for recognition, not merely of its sovereignty, but as a Jewish state. He states: “the problem with your article, Mitchell, is that the facts are all backwards. Will you retract?”

In an e-mail he sent me, he clarifies: “Contrary to what you write, indeed, contrary to your entire thesis, the demand was first inserted into the negotiations in July 2001… by a group of lefties: Amos Oz, A.B.Yehoshua, David Grossman and others like them.”

Yossi Beilin (l) and Yasser Abed Rabbo (r)

I did not immediately recognize the statement he referred to. My initial thought was that, in any case, what several writers of literature said, however politically active they may be, really didn’t mean much, but I was curious about what he was referring to. So I asked him for citation.

Though Yaacov was not able, due to constraints on his time, to clarify the source, I realized shortly that what he referred to was a Joint Statement organized by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abbed-Rabbo in July 2001. I had, actually, referred to this statement many times in public talks I’ve given as an example of the extent to which the two-state solution was a real possibility. This project eventually led to the Geneva Initiative.

But, I had to confess, it had been some years since I actually read the text of the statement. Was there something there which indicates that a demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was actually put forward by Beilin and his cohorts?

Not surprisingly, the answer is no. Here is the passage which Yaacov was surely referring to:

“The way forward lies in international legitimacy and the implementation of UNSCR 242 and 338 leading to a 2-State solution based on the 1967 borders, Israel and Palestine living side-by-side, with their respective capitals in Jerusalem. Solutions can be found to all outstanding issues that should be fair and just to both sides and should not undermine the sovereignty of the Palestinian and Israeli states as determined by their respective citizens, and embodying the aspirations to statehood of both peoples, Jewish and Palestinian. This solution should build on the progress made between November 1999 and January 2001.”

It’s obvious that this is not touching on the question we are discussing, but rather it is a statement of respect by individual citizens, not attempting to craft a politically binding document, of the fact that any reasonable solution to the conflict must incorporate the national aspirations of the two antagonists.

Reading this as in any way suggesting that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state, rather than just recognize Israeli sovereignty, is an obvious stretch. Much like UNGA Resolution 181, which referred to “Jewish” and “Arab” states in its partition plans, it merely is a reference to the states which would be home to the respective parties and their national identities. There is nothing about the character, identity or legal frameworks extant in those respective states.

Nonetheless, there are elements of what Yaacov was reading into this that really are there.

Many Israelis worry greatly about how the issue of the Palestinian Right of Return (RoR) will be resolved. On the left, there is a sort of three-way divide. The most centrist group tends to believe that the Right of Return must simply be abrogated, and, while they may acknowledge how central this point is to Palestinian nationalism, they just believe the Palestinians will have no choice but to give up on this point.

The most radical left—those who hold one-state or anti-Zionist positions—might advocate for the full recognition of the RoR, though many will concede that its implementation must be limited in order for Israel to even consider any sort of peace agreement (though a one-state solution, for advocates of that stance, obviously takes care of the refugee issue, as there will only be the one state for them to return to). In between are those who believe some accommodation short of recognizing the RoR must be found that still allows for no significant return of refugees to Israel.

One problem, of course, is the claim that “most refugees would not actually return to Israel.” I have no proof of that, and I’m not at all convinced it is true, given how many Palestinians I have met who still have deeds or keys to their families’ former homes and speak longingly of a return to their homeland.

Nadia Hijab, a strong supporter of RoR, talks about the need for Palestinians to espouse common goals. I would extend this point to both sides (Israel should be absolutely clear on what it envisions as appropriate borders and which settlements, if any, it is willing to abandon, for example), but in any case, I think it is clear that Israelis need to know what is being discussed when Palestinians bring up RoR.

I cannot see Israel ever agreeing to open return, no matter how much pressure even the US brings. So, I understand why Israelis, like Yaacov, are seeking assurances about the refugee issue. I could not support a drive to leave how many refugees return behind the Green Line up in the air. To me, a two state solution means two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, not two Palestinian states. And this is what was being addressed in the Joint Statement, a stance for which, as an example, Sari Nusseibeh (who was a signer of the statement) came under great fire for making more explicit.

But this was not the purpose of the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state being introduced by Ehud Olmert in 2007 and brought front and center by Bibi Netanyahu more recently. Both leaders are well aware that not only would Israel never agree to conditions where refugees could flood Israel, but such an outcome is clearly opposed by the United States and Europe, and as such (and as Palestinians are well aware, whatever their own stance on RoR may be) it is not a realistic possibility diplomatically.

No, this demand was introduced quite simply because Bibi knew Abbas could not do it. It was introduced to add another obstacle to talks continuing.

And, it is quite clear from the Joint Statement that this was not a demand Beilin (or Amos Oz, David Grossman and A. B. Yehoshua) were making or one their Palestinian interlocutors were agreeing to. It was, in fact, a way of clarifying the refugee issue without forcing the Palestinians to give up on a central issue of their national goals. I don’t think it would have worked in the real world—the refugee issue will only be settled when there is a clear position brought forth by both sides that is then negotiated in a manner that settles the issue while protecting the core values of both sides.

It’s a vexing question, and one that has scared the negotiators. They need to overcome that fear and get into the arguments.

But the contention that “the left” introduced the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is clearly misguided. It depends on a willful mis-reading of the document in question. See for yourself at (in case you missed the link above). So, no, Yaacov, I see no reason to retract anything I said.



2 People reacted on this

  1. Ultimately, it is the “RoR” (right of return) that gives the clearest indication of what the Arab attitude (including both the Palestinians-who are not really free agents in the conflict-and the other Arab states) is towards the possibility of peace with Israel really is.

    The Israeli Left, including the Geneva Initiative people, have always related to the RoR as a “humanitarian issue”, i.e. how can the lives of the refugees be improved by giving them full rights in what ever state they ultimately live in. Beilin claimes they will be farmed out to various states, many would go live in the future Palestinians state and a nominal number would be allowed into Israel so that Arab “pride” could be assuaged and so they could say that Israel “recognized the RoR” even though in practice it would not be implemented. Those Israelis who hold this line will quote opinion polls of refugees claiming that many or most don’t really expect to be allowed into Israel.

    This, of course, completely misses the point. The RoR is NOT viewed by the Arabs as a “humanitarian issue”. They see it as an existential POLITICAL issue-a weapon to be held over Israel forever. In this view, no refugee has the right to give up his claim to return to Israel. To do so would be viewed as treason. No doubt Islamic scholars would issue fatwas reinforcing this point. The Arabs can NOT give up the demand for full repatriation of refugees, because even if some Palestinian leader were to offer to give it up, he would be branded as a traitor by other elements.

    In addition, the idea of having the refugees return to a possible future Palestinian state is out of the question, Firstly, there isn’t any land for for them. Secondly, considering the existing population of the West Bank, having a couple of million refugees loaded with compenstation reparations (which Barak and Olmert agreed to) would completely tear apart the economy and society there and cause the existing population to lose their political power, and thirdly, the existing West Bank population views the refugees as aliens with whom they have little in common.

    Thus, people are just going to have to resign themselves to the fact that the RoR is going to be the one big issue that is going to prevent a peace agreement. Having that as a stick to continually beat Israel with is more important ot the leadership of the Palestinian and Arab worlds than achieving the mythical “2-state solution with Israel living side-by-side in peace and prosperity with a Palestinian state” which was never in the cards, from the very beginning of the Arab/Israeli conflict.

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