Ramallah – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu touched off a maelstrom across the political spectrum, including from members of his own party, when he said he sees no reason Israeli Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty on land Israel acquired in the 1967 war, but which Palestinians claim for statehood.
Palestinians also came out sharply against the idea. Senior PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi says the Palestinians will never agree to Israelis living within a Palestinian state and said that Israel’s continued construction in post-1967 areas is destroying the two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.
- Israeli official: Palestine should allow settlers
- Will Jews be able to live in future Palestine?
- Abbas: Israel using peace talks to 'cover' West Bank construction
“There’s no way we will give legality to Israeli settlements,” Ashrawi told The Media Line.
The majority of the international community sees Israeli communities on post-1967 land as illegal. Today, an estimated 500,000 Jewish Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority has made the ceding by Israel of all post-1967 lands – with the possible exception of minor territorial swaps – a red line in negotiations in order to have contiguous land upon which to declare the state of Palestine.
This week, speaking in Davos, Switzerland, Netanyahu declared that “no settlement will be uprooted” and no Jew will be evacuated from post-’67 land.
Meanwhile, despite statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that there can be no Israeli Jews living in Palestine, officials say Israelis living in a future Palestinian state has not been ruled out.
According to Ashrawi, the Palestinian Basic Law does not discriminate against race or religion. “(Israelis) are more than welcome to apply for residency under our basic laws as individuals, but not Jewish enclaves or ghettos in Palestine,” the Palestinian legislator said.
Palestinian political analyst George Jaqaman told The Media Line that the Palestinian position is clear.
“Mahmoud Abbas has said they can stay as citizens of Palestine but not as a people with illegal outposts or living in settlements in the Palestinian territories,” he said.
Israeli officials use these statements as proof that the Palestinians have not really accepted the idea of peace with Israel.
"Nothing shows the Palestinian Authority's unwillingness to reach an accord with Israel more than their extreme and reckless reaction to an unofficial report,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “(A peace accord) will only be reached when the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and when the essential interests of the security of Israeli citizens are guaranteed.”
Despite the official Israeli and Palestinian statements, some Palestinians on the street seem more open to the idea.
“We accept (Israelis) to live here as long as they do not want to occupy our land or to provoke us or attack us,” Mohammad Halabi, who runs an electronics and communications store, told The Media Line. “If the settlers legally buy land from their Palestinian owners, they can stay – as long as it is not occupation. But it should be by a mutual agreement – I should be able to buy land in (the area that became Israel) in 1948.”
Halabi believes that peace has not been achieved between the two peoples till now because of the Israeli side.
“They do not want us to live together. They do not want to see a Palestine state next to Israel. The problem is not with us, but with them – they do not want to live among us,” he said.
Jaqaman says he thinks the Israeli Prime Minister’s statement was meant as “political maneuvering” within his own government coalition.
“We will have to wait and see whatever final proposal is going to be made by a United States framework agreement,” he said, referring to the outline of a peace deal that US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to announce in the next few weeks.
Kerry has been shuttling back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, trying to narrow the gaps between the two sides, so far with little success.
But Ashrawi says America has not been an honest broker and has been “anything but ‘flexible.” She says Israel continues its unilateral actions because “the US has not exerted weight on Israel to force it to comply with its obligations, yet pressures the Palestinian leadership to make concessions.”
Ashrawi argues that demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state is just “another precondition which weakens Palestinian sovereignty and expresses Israeli’s desire to maintain control over both states.”
“We recognize the state of Israel. They can go to the United Nations and change their name to whatever. They accuse us of not wanting peace and yet they are deliberately undermining us,” Ashrawi charged.
According to Palestinian officials, Israel was recognized as a state in the 1993 Oslo Accords . The demand to recognize the Jewish character of the state of Israel was only raised years later, by Binyamin Netanyahu, after his predecessors chose not to do so. To make the demand now, Ashrawi argues, is to make an “impossible demand” on the Palestinians.
Despite his fervor on the issue, Netanyahu does not have a consensus from the public or unanimous agreement from his own leadership on the issue. Speaking in Davos last week, President Shimon Peres called Palestinian acknowledgement of the Jewish character of the state “unnecessary.” Yet, a new poll commissioned by Israel’s Channel Two television shows 63% of the population agrees with the prime minister.
Jaqaman says Netanyahu’s statements on Israelis staying in the West Bank even after a political agreement should not be taken seriously and that most likely “it won’t happen.”
“It depends on what is meant here. It hasn’t been specific. Would they be living here as Israeli citizens or as Palestinian citizens?” Jaqaman asked.
Israeli officials say that before these issues can even be discussed, Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“The refusal of the Palestinian Leadership to recognize the legitimacy of the nation-state of the Jewish people is at the very core of the conflict,” Mark Regev, spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office told The Media Line. Regev insisted that is crucial for the Palestinians to deal with this issue if there is to be an end to the conflict.
“Ultimately, Palestinian demands of Israelis that we recognize their right to a Palestinian nation-state shows that we are entitled in return to receive Palestinian recognition of the Jewish nation-state,” Regev said.
Article written by Abdullah H. Erakat
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line