Netanyahu presses demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as state of the Jewish people – Fayyad says Jews can stay without discrimination in a future Palestine

It is a slightly but significantly different formulation from the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

As Israel’s Prime Minister clarified just days after his recent policy speech at Bar Ilan University (billed as his answer to U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim world from Cairo University on 4 June), he is now asking — as he did again today at the weekly Cabinet meeting — for Palestinians to “recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People”.

We reported this on 21 June here.

This Israeli condition was made an issue by Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the start of the Annapolis process of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, then dropped. Olmert did say that he had assurances from his Palestinian interlocutors — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei — that they did not disagree with the proposition.

But this was actually first raised in May 2003, in former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 14-point reservations to the U.S.-backed Road Map to the creation of a Palestinian State (provisionally by the end of 2003, with final status talks to be concluded by the end of 2005). These reservations can be viewed in full here.

[Points 5 + 6 of Sharon’s reservations read: 5. “The character of the provisional Palestinian state will be determined through negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The provisional state will have provisional borders and certain aspects of sovereignty, be fully demilitarized with no military forces, but only with police and internal security forces of limited scope and armaments, be without the authority to undertake defense alliances or military cooperation, and Israeli control over the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, as well as of its air space and electromagnetic spectrum. 6. “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”.]

In remarks published after the Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said his “National Unity” government has now marked its first 100 days in office: “[W]e have many achievements and the first and most important is the establishment of a unity Government and that we have given content to this unity on the main issues facing us. We have brought a national agreement on the idea of ‘two states for two peoples’ and the outlines of the agreement are – first of all – that the Palestinians will need to recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People. This says that the problem of the refugees will be resolved outside the State of Israel and that Israel needs – and will receive – defensible borders, and includes the full demilitarization of the Palestinian territory. Forming the national agreement around these principles is the unity Government’s most important expression”.

Netanyhu also said that “There is no doubt that Operation Cast Lead provided an important infrastructure of deterrence. But various groups and organizations have tested us, they have tested the State of Israel, by firing at us and my instructions are that there must be an aggressive response to every incident and as a result, the level of firing has decreased”.

Meanwhile, the Israeli “Geneva team” — which supports the Geneva Accord/Initiative signed by a number of Israelis and Palestinians, and which they believe is a model for a final peace agreement — almost immediately issued a press release stating that “the Geneva Initiative calls PM Netanyahu to immediately begin negotiations with President Abbas based on the Geneva Initiative. In this morning’s cabinet meeting PM Netanyahu listed the achievements of his administration, saying that the first of these is the achievement of a wide national consensus on the idea of two states for two peoples. The Geneva Initiative indeed agrees that there is a wide national consensus on the idea of two states for two peoples and calls PM Netanyahu to join this consensus and immediately embark upon negotiations to this end with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas based on the principles outlined in the Geneva Accord.
All the terms mentioned by PM Netanyahu including the recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people; the resolving of the Palestinian refugees issue without ‘the right of return’, a non-militarized Palestinian state and the end of the conflict – appear in the Geneva Accord, the principles of which are supported by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

I am not sure that the Palestinian members of the “Geneva team” would be fully on board with this statement — in particular with the remark that “All the terms mentioned by PM Netanyahu including the recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people … appear in the Geneva Accord”.

But, the text, formally presented in a hastily-organized ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, on 1 December 2003, does say that “this agreement marks the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to statehood and the recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, without prejudice to the equal rights of the Parties’ respective citizens”.

It also says that “The Parties recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples”.

Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, denounced the agreement and the Swiss government’s involvement. The Swiss Foreign Ministry was astonished at this reaction, saying that it was an initiative from “civil society”. The document itself was criticized on a number of points, ranging from its position on Palestinian refugees to the fact that it was drafted by a “bunch of political wanna-be’s and has-been’s”. Those involved continue to believe that the principles in the document will be the basis for any future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

The Palestinian reaction should be seen in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has joined the former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia (Abu Alaa) in saying that Jewish settlers now living in the West Bank could stay on in a future Palestinian State as residents (or possibly even citizens) with equal but not superior rights.

Haaretz reported that, in response to a question from former CIA director James Woolsey at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, Fayyad said that: “Jews, to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine, will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel”. This Haaretz report is posted here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the exchange between Woolsey and Fayyad was first reported in the Aspen Daily News.

According to the Jerusalem Post account, published here Woolsey reportedly said “There are a million Arabs in Israel, accounting for one-sixth of the Israeli population … [and] ‘generally they enjoy the guarantees that Americans look for in the Bill of Rights. Now, if there is to be the rule of law in a Palestinian state, and if Jews want to live in someplace like Hebron, or anyplace else in a Palestinian state, for whatever reasons or historical attachments, why should they not be treated the same way Israeli Arabs are?’ the newspaper quoted Woolsey as asking the PA prime minister. [n.b. that would of course mean that the Jewish settlers would become Palestinian citizens; Palestinian in East Jerusalem who are Israeli residents but not citizens are in much more precarious position] Fayad responded by saying, ‘I’m not going to disagree with you. And I’m not someone who will say that they would or should be treated differently than Israeli Arabs are treated in Israel. In fact the kind of state that we want to have, that we aspire to have, is one that would definitely espouse high values of tolerance, co-existence, mutual respect and deference to all cultures, religions. No discrimination whatsoever, on any basis whatsoever’, the Palestinian official reportedly said. ‘Jews to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel’, Fayad concluded”.

In the same article, the JPost noted that “Fayad’s remarks came a day before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the first time since taking office made public use of the words ‘two states for two peoples’.” But, Netanyahu has already said this — or something nearly identical — two weeks ago, as we noted here.

This is an interesting diplomatic minuet.

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