The answer to that question is …. depends on who you ask. As John Kerry tries to pressure both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a negotiated two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that Mahmoud Abbas would finally offer recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which for the Israelis is the first principle of the negotiations:
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro asserted on Friday that the framework peace deal currently being negotiated by US Secretary of State of John Kerry will include Palestinian recognition of Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel’s Jewishness has been a sticking point in negotiations, with the Palestinians refusing to accede to a demand that would tacitly do away with Palestinian hopes for a “right of return” for refugees and their descendants.
“It’s too early to know what compromises and concessions both sides will make,” Shapiro told Israel Radio on Friday morning. “But we do believe… that Israel deserves recognition as a Jewish state. That has always been US policy — that Israel is a Jewish state and should remain a Jewish state. That will be one of the elements of the framework we’re working on.”
Well, that’s certainly the US position, and has been since 1948. That hasn’t been the position at all of the Palestinian Authority or its predecessor, the PLO. They have demanded the right to return as their own sine que non of the standoff, which means that Israel would have to allow all Palestinians and their descendants to return to their homes before the 1948 war launched by Arab nations to wipe out the Jewish state of Israel. Such a demand would destroy the integrity of the Jewish state, which has been the ultimate goal of the PLO and PA, and the reason why frameworks in this conflict always collapse. If the US got that concession from Abbas, that would be a huge, dramatic development.
That, however, is a mighty big if, and the PA scotched the leak quickly:
Ideas proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas cannot “serve as the basis for a framework accord” with Israel, a Palestinian official said Friday.
“The ideas proposed cannot be accepted by the Palestinian side as the basis for a framework accord between the Palestinians and Israel as they do not take into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, after Abbas and Kerry met in Paris this week.
“The Palestinian position explained to Mr. Kerry is that the proposed ideas, particularly the insistences on recognition of the state of Israel as the Jewish nation-state, are unacceptable,” the official said.
AFP had this story late Friday, and in its original form it included the objection to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. By yesterday, the report changed to eliminate the objection to the recognition issue. Given the centrality of this issue to the negotiations, it’s curious that AFP chose to eliminate it from the story overnight.
It appears that the US either tried to pressure Abbas into agreeing to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or he agreed and then reneged. I’d tend to believe the former more than the latter, in part because the US tends to do this a lot, even though it doesn’t seem to work very often, and in this case may make it more difficult for Abbas to accept the position — assuming he ever will. The problem isn’t the two-state solution so much as it is the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to actually accept it as an end result. They want an end to the Jewish state, period, and they’re not likely to accept any solution that falls short of that goal.
That’s not the only spectre of a “right of return,” either. A plan by Spain to offer citizenship to the descendants of Jews expelled during the Middle Ages in a paroxysm of anti-Semitism has Muslims demanding equal treatment:
Muslim groups are demanding Spanish citizenship for potentially millions of descendants of Muslims who were expelled from Spain during the Middle Ages.
The growing clamor for “historical justice” comes after the recent approval of a law that would grant Spanish citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.
Muslim supporters say they are entitled to the same rights and privileges as Jews because both groups were expelled from Spain under similar historical circumstances.
But historians point out that the Jewish presence in Spain predates the arrival of Christianity in the country and that their expulsion was a matter of bigotry. By contrast, the Muslims in Spain were colonial occupiers who called the territory Al-Andalus and imposed Arabic as the official language. Historians say their expulsion was a matter of decolonization. …
Much of the Iberian Peninsula was occupied by Muslim conquerors known as the Moors from 711 until 1492, when the Moorish Kingdom of Granada surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon), in what is known as the Christian Reconquest.
But the final Muslim expulsion from Granada did not take place until over a century later, beginning in 1609, when King Philip III decreed the expulsion of the Moriscos.
John Hinderaker points out the absurdity of the demand, and its parallel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
As Spanish officials have pointed out, this is a ridiculous claim. Jews whose ancestors had lived peacefully in Iberia for more than a millennium were kicked out as part of the European anti-Semitism of the time. The Moors, on the other hand, were hostile invaders who conquered by the sword, but ultimately were defeated. They abandoned Spain because they lost the war. Understandably, Spain has no interest in admitting millions of new North African immigrants:
[T]he descendants of Muslims expelled from Spain are believed to number in the millions—possibly tens of millions—and most of them now live in North Africa. Observers say that by granting citizenship to all of them, Spain, virtually overnight, would end up with the largest Muslim population in the European Union.
Many Europeans have been sympathetic to the Arabs’ claim of a “right of return” to Israel. Perhaps the Spanish controversy will cause some of them to re-think that issue.
Actually, the two rights of return are quite similar. In 1948, the Arab countries that surround Israel launched a coordinated attack, the purpose of which was to destroy the new Israeli state and murder its Jewish population. Many Arabs left Israel at the time of that invasion, most voluntarily, some, probably, involuntarily. They intended to come back in triumph, but to their surprise, the Arabs lost the war and they were no longer welcome. Much like the Muslims of Al-Andalus: that’s what happens when you start a war, and then lose it.
Regardless of the history, Israel clearly cannot survive as a Jewish state with a Palestinian right to return. If the Palestinians want their own state, they’re going to have to forgo that, and accept the fact of Israel as a Jewish state. Otherwise, there is clearly not much to discuss in terms of a permanent settlement.