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January 3, 2014 8:14 am

Roger Cohen, a ‘Jewish’ Israel, and an ‘Islamic’ Palestinian State

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Tzipi Livni. Photo: World Economic Forum.

Once again, Roger Cohen blames Israel and Israel alone for his fearless prediction that current negotiations will fail:

But I am going to make one prediction for 2014. It is that, for all John Kerry’s efforts, this will be another year in which peace is not reached in the Middle East. …

Plenty of bad things have happened between Israelis and Palestinians of late. There has been a steady uptick in violence. Israel’s freeing of 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners was naturally greeted with joy in Ramallah, and by a wave of Israeli government tweets condemning the celebration of terrorists. Along with the release came word that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will likely announce plans for 1,400 new housing units in the West Bank, just as Kerry arrives for his 10th peace-seeking visit. This has infuriated Palestinians. So, too, has an Israeli ministerial committee vote advancing legislation to annex settlements in the Jordan Valley. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the vote “finishes all that is called the peace process.” Such contemptuous characterization of a negotiation from a leading protagonist is ill-advised and bodes ill.

Then there is the rebounding Israel-is-a-Jewish-state bugbear: Netanyahu wants Palestinians to recognize his nation as such. He has recently called it “the real key to peace.” His argument is that this is the touchstone by which to judge whether Palestinians will accept “the Jewish state in any border” — whether, in other words, the Palestinian leadership would accept territorial compromise or is still set on reversal of 1948 and mass return to Haifa.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, says no; this “nyet” will endure. For Palestinians,such a form of recognition would amount to explicit acquiescence to second-class citizenship for the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel; undermine the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees; upend a national narrative of mass expulsion from land that was theirs; and demand of them something not demanded from Egypt or Jordan in peace agreements, nor of the Palestine Liberation Organization when, in 1993, Yasir Arafat wrote to Yitzhak Rabin that it “recognizes the right of Israel to live in peace and security.”

This issue is a waste of time, a complicating diversion when none is needed.

…Of course, any two-state peace agreement will have to be final and irreversible; it must ensure there are no further Palestinian claims on a secure Israel. It may well require some form of words saying the two states are the homelands of their respective peoples, a formula used by the Geneva Initiative. But that is for another day.

If Israel looks like a Jewish state and acts like a Jewish state, that is good enough for me — as long as it gets out of the corrosive business of occupation.

Cohen doesn’t understand the basics of Israel’s insistence that it be recognized as a Jewish state.

First of all, it is not Netanyahu who first came up with this formula – it was the liberal dream negotiating team of Livni and Olmert. As the Palestine Papers showed, the Palestinian Arabs refuse to, on principle, even admit the existence of a Jewish people!

During the 2007 negotiations, Livni, rather passionately, argued about why such a formula is essential:

TL (Livni): I just want to say something. …Our idea is to refer to two states for two peoples. Or two nation states, Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security with each state constituting the homeland for its people and the fulfillment of their national aspirations and self determination…

AH (Akram Haniyeh): This refers to the Israeli people?

TL: [Visibly angered.] I think that we can use another session – about what it means to be a Jew and that it is more than just a religion. But if you want to take us back to 1947 — it won’t help. Each state constituting the homeland for its people and the fulfillment of their national aspirations and self determination in their own territory. Israel the state of the Jewish people — and I would like to emphasize the meaning of “its people” is the Jewish people — with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3007 years… [The Palestinian team protests.] You asked for it. [AA: We said East Jerusalem!] …and Palestine for the Palestinian people. We did not want to say that there is a “Palestinian people” but we’ve accepted your right to self determination.

AA (Abu Alaa) : Why is it different?

TL: I didn’t ask for something that relates to my own self. I didn’t ask for recognizing something that is the internal decision of Israel. Israel can do so, it is a sovereign state. [We want you to recognize it.] The whole idea of the conflict is … the entire point is the establishment of the Jewish state. And yet we still have a conflict between us. We used to think it is because the Jews and the Arabs… but now the Palestinians… we used to say that we have no right to define the Palestinian people as a people. They can define it themselves. In 1947 it was between Jews and Arabs, and then [at that point the purpose] from the Israeli side to [was] say that the Palestinians are Arabs and not [Palestinians – it was an excuse not to create a Palestinian state. We”ve passed that point in time and I”m not going to raise it. The whole conflict between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is not the idea of creating a democratic state that is viable etc. It is to divide it into two.] For each state to create its own problem. Then we can ask ourselves is it viable, what is the nature of the two states. In order to end the conflict we have to say that this is the basis. I know that your problem is saying this is problematic because of the refugees. During the final status negotiations we will have an answer to the refugees. You know my position. Even having a Jewish state — it doesn’t say anything about your demands. …. Without it, why should we create a Palestinian state?

…There is something that is shorter. I can read something with different wording:
That the ultimate goal is constituting the homeland for the Jewish people and the Palestinian people respectively, and the fulfillment of their national aspirations and self determination in their own territory.

Linvi answers Cohen’s objections. Cohen ignores this completely, and in all probability is not even aware of it, since his grasp of the Middle East is paper-thin.

Similarly, Cohen glosses over the Palestinian Arab demands of “return” as if that is not really a serious issue. In fact, the “Jewish state” formula is meant to eliminate this bogus “right” to destroy Israel demographically.

I suggest that Cohen read the Palestinian Basic Law of 2003, which describes “return” as the biggest issue:

The birth of the Palestinian National Authority in the national homeland of Palestine, the land of their forefathers, comes within the context of continuous and vigorous struggle, during which the Palestinian people witnessed thousands of their precious children sacrificed as martyrs, injured persons and prisoners of war, all in order to achieve their people’s clear national rights, the foremost of which are the right of return, the right to self-determination and the right to establish an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as a capital, under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole, legitimate representative of the Arab Palestinian people wherever they exist.

Abbas repeats this practically every day.

Similarly, given that Cohen seems sympathetic to Palestinian arguments against Israel as a Jewish state, he must be unaware that the same Basic Law defines “Palestine” as an Arab state – and Islam as the official religion:

Palestine is part of the larger Arab world, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab nation. Arab unity is an objective that the Palestinian people shall work to achieve.

…Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect for the sanctity of all other divine religions shall be maintained.

The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation.

Then again, I shouldn’t blame Cohen for his superficial understanding of the issues and his ignorance of the basic texts and words of the Palestinian Arabs. After all, he only gets his news from The New York Times.

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