For most of last week, the Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland was cast as the erstwhile Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a role-play exercise, while Palestinians played Israelis .
Apparently, every time such exercises take place, it is the ‘Palestinians’ who seethe with righteous indignation as the underdog. The ‘Israelis’ suffered too, the negotiators recognise, but that was ‘in the past’.
How has the peace agenda come to be so seriously skewed? The victims of a genocidal project to destroy the Jews in the Middle East have been turned into aggressors, and Jewish suffering downplayed. Who around the negotiating table remembers that it was the Arabs who rejected the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and launched a war of annihilation against Israel in 1948? Who remembers the Arab League secretary-general Azzam Pasha’s spine-chilling promise in 1947: ‘This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades’?
It was a good week, writes Freedland. He negotiated Israel back to the 1967 borders.That was the easy bit, Jonathan. Did the ‘Israeli ‘negotiators’ get the ‘Palestinians’ renounce their ‘right of return’ to Israel proper?
The ‘right of return’
This issue cannot be brushed aside lightly as ‘rhetoric’. Not content with getting a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, even the ‘moderates’ of the Fatah camp have refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Most recently they again affirmed that their ‘right of return’ was non-negotiable. Thus Palestinians reserve the right to turn the Jewish state into a second state of Palestine, by overwhelming it with millions of returning refugees. The first act of such a Muslim majority-state would be to repeal Israel’s ‘Law of Return’ which entitles Jews ,wherever they may be, to automatic Israeli citizenship.
That’s why, in the real negotiating world, Benjamin Netanyahu is right to make Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state the quintessential issue. (The real Erekat has said flippantly that Israel can call itself what it likes – but does the Arab side accept Israel’s right to call itself what it likes?)
If successive Israeli governments did not insist on this point in the past, it is because the Netanyahu has realised that the much vaunted ‘two-state solution’ leaves room for ambiguity.
To put it bluntly, Arabs need to become Zionists if there is to be peace. They need to accept that the Jews are an indigenous Middle Eastern people with a right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
The Palestinian negotiators at Freedland’s role-play hold ‘the moral high ground’: the Palestinian refugees are seen as the main victims of an Israeli injustice. But this is another serious distortion.