Fayyad On Recognizing Israel As A ‘Jewish State’

With the expiration last night of Israel’s pretend settlement moratorium, settlers in the West Bank are apparently ignoring Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for restraint, holding big parties and insulting the President of the United States as they begin new construction.

As if the end of the moratorium weren’t already putting enough strain on the negotiations, there’s also the fact that Netanyahu introduced a new demand of the Palestinians. Not only must they recognize Israel’s right to exist, as they already did in 1993 under the Oslo agreement. Now they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “must recognize the state as Jewish and say it in a clear manner to his people in their language,” Netanyahu said earlier this month.

Last Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad spoke at the New America Foundation on the Palestinians’ current efforts to build durable state institutions under the conditions of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Fayyad why he thought Netanyahu had introduced this demand, and what he thought some of the implications of it might be for the peace process.

“I asked Mr. Netanyahu as to why he did it,” Fayyad answered, “honestly I cannot but speculate.” Fayyad reminded the audience that, under the Oslo accords, “we recognized Israel’s existence. Actually, we did more than just recognize Israel’s existence back in 1993”:

It was a lot more profound than just recognizing Israel’s existence. We had recognized then Israel’s “right to exist in peace and security.” It’s a very high form of recognition, if you will. Mutual recognition among nations is typically not that way. Countries recognize each other, members of the United Nations, and life goes on. In this particular case, we Palestinians, through the PLO, acting on behalf of all Palestinian people, in the occupied Palestinian territory and everywhere, recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

In passing, let me tell you what we got in return at the time. You’d think that in return for this recognition, we’d have gotten recognition on the part of Israel, the government of Israel, of our right to statehood, as Palestinian people. I think it’s only logical to think that way. That wasn’t the case. If you actually review the so-called declaration…of mutual recognition, you will find that actually, on the Israeli side, it involved Israel recognizing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, that’s all. That is all. You recognize a country’s right to exist in peace and security, and the way that country chooses to define itself as a product of that country’s own internal political processes, I mean, that’s more than any country can be expected — we’re not even yet a country, and we’re not promised to be one in the context of that declaration — more than any country can be expected to offer.

Watch it (question at 49:25):

Fayyad also noted that this demand was not an element of the peace talks between either Jordan and Israel or Egypt and Israel. “Nor am I aware of that being a demand or expectation of any other nation around the world,” he said.

Speculating as to why the demand was introduced, Fayyad said “If it is intended to deal the refugees issue out of the equation, then let’s address that for what it is. Refugees is an element of the so-called permanent status issues, one of those issues that needs to be negotiated.” If the intention was to preempt the refugee issue, “then it’s a clear attempt at taking one issue out of negotiations,” Fayyad said, “a way to neutralize it before you begin negotiations. That would not be right.”