Benjamin Netanyahu takes pride in “institutionalizing the concept of reciprocity.” Indeed, one of his fundamental first term achievements as prime minister was stopping the process of “giving something for nothing” - to educate Israelis and Palestinians alike to the concept of reciprocity and to clarify to a disinclined Clinton administration that the term also applies to the Middle East peace process. However, if recent reports concerning backchannel diplomacy are accurate, it seems that Netanyahu may have forgotten an important page from the book he himself wrote.
Headlines drum-rolling the scheduled meetings between Netanyahu and Senator George Mitchell imply that a tacit agreement has already been reached concerning a unilateral freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. The planned freeze is supposed to be limited in duration, until a final agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians. This seems strange. Obama wants Jews to refrain from building in areas that may jeopardize the final border to be drawn between Israel and its neighbors. Yet Obama has not made such demands from the other side. If Jews are expected to stop building, Arabs should be expected to do the same.
The first step in resetting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is not a freeze on Jewish settlements, but rather, a basic and candid declaration of both sides to recognize one another. Netanyahu has already declared his willingness to accept a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel. In response, Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his demands for the “right of return” of Arabs to Israel proper and for Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital, while refusing to recognize the existence of the Jewish state. That is not reciprocity – that is ridiculous.
Israel considers Judea and Samaria part of the historic Jewish homeland just as the Palestinians view the West Bank as part of the future Palestinian state. That premise is problematic since the West Bank and Judea and Samaria are the same place. Jews have a right to live in Judea and Samaria. We know that from the bible, history lessons and indisputable archeological finds. Hence, no one should have been surprised when Israel’s deputy prime minister reminded us of that.
Nor should anyone be surprised that over a million Arabs living in the West Bank regard it as their home. The question is whether Arab rights to build in a village called Ras Atia near the Israeli town of Rosh Ha’ayin outweigh Jewish rights to build in ancient Shilo not far from Nablus. Do Arab building rights in Na’alin, near Modi’in, outweigh Jewish building rights in Bet El, near Ramallah? Not if reciprocity is to be taken into consideration.
For the sake of reciprocity, if Jews are asked to stop building homes, Arabs should be required to do the same; limiting Jews while giving Arabs a free hand is not reciprocity – its racism.