Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Tough Choice Between a Palestinian State or Fucking Over Jews

The Jerusalem Post (via Jewlicious) reports on why the last peace proposal (by Ehud Olmert) failed (they're going off this interview with Saeb Erekat):
Erekat acknowledged that Israel had presented the Palestinians with a proposal in November 2008 which "talked about Jerusalem and almost 100% of the West Bank," and he noted that Mahmoud Abbas could have accepted this proposal, just as the "Palestinian negotiators could have given in in 1994, 1998, or 2000." Intriguingly, Erekat then proceeded to reveal what he considered a "secret": he explained why the Palestinians had rejected the recent proposals just like the ones offered in 2000/01 during the negotiations in Camp David and Taba. What prevented an agreement every time - at least according to Erekat - was the Israeli request that the Palestinians acknowledge the central importance of the Temple Mount for Jewish history and religion.

It is worthwhile to quote Erekat's description of a scene at Camp David, when Bill Clinton tried to convince Yassir Arafat to come to an agreement: "You will be the first president of a Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders - give or take, considering the land swap - and East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, but we want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif." According to Erekat, Arafat responded "defiantly" to Clinton: "I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram Al-Sharif except for Allah."

It may be debatable if Erekat is really revealing a "secret" here, but it is certainly surprising that the long-time Palestinian chief negotiator chose to emphasize an entirely symbolic issue and to present the repeated Palestinian refusal to compromise on this issue as a demonstration of proud defiance that is ultimately more important than the achievement of a peace agreement that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state.

If this is indeed the message the Palestinians wanted to convey, they apparently succeeded if the recollections of former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami are anything to go by. Describing talks held in November and December of 2000 on the division of Jerusalem in an interview with Haaretz in September 2001, Ben-Ami explained that the Israeli negotiators had agreed to the division of the city and to full Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but asked that the Palestinians acknowledge that the site was sacred to the Jews. When the Palestinians refused categorically, the ultra-dovish Ben-Ami concluded: "At that moment I grasped they are really not Sadat ... they were not willing to move toward our position even at the emotional and symbolic level. At the deepest level, they are not ready to recognize that we have any kind of title here."

Now let's be clear: Jerusalem is massive sticking point in Israel -- I've had putatively pro-two-staters tell me they will personally take up arms to prevent its division (they're always notably evasive when I ask if that means they're willing to attack Israel if Israel agrees to such a division. But the point is to reveal the depth of the sentiment). It is a big deal that Israel put it on the table to the degree that it did -- I'd consider it perfectly just if Israel demanded dual sovereignty. And accepting a right of return in any form beyond compensation is a redline I thought Israel would never cross -- frankly, I'm on the record as saying that Israel should pay compensation to Palestinian refugees but tie the issue to getting compensation for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled Arab states and everyone forgets about. But that's because I'm a silly little man who -- in spite of every page of global history -- thinks that Jewish claims matter.

Erekat's statement is simply horrifying if true -- for it is a flat acknowledgment that the deepest Palestinian redline isn't settlements, isn't Jerusalem, isn't statehood, isn't even the right of return, but is the idea of affirming Jews as equals. But there seems to be quite a bit of corroboration. The adamant refusal to recognize Jewish historical connection to Israel and Jerusalem has a long history amongst the Palestinian political leadership. Jackson Diehl says Abbas verified that he rejected the plan, but doesn't say why. Diehl notes, incidentally, that Abbas' strategy at the moment is to simply wait Israel out -- he doesn't want a deal now because a deal might mean negotiating, and making concessions of his own. Like, say, agreeing that Jerusalem is a holy city to Jews too. Well I'm sorry, but that's not a good enough reason to keep your people in an occupied state. It's tough to feel sympathy when you reject a deal now simply because it requires you to treat your partner with dignity and respect. And it lends credence to Jewlicious' argument, which I've long been sympathetic to, urging Israel to simply unilaterally withdraw and make the issue moot.

Rejection of this plan would be bad enough even if it were over a wholly symbolic issue -- it would verify every pro-Israel hawk's intuition that Palestinian authorities care more about standing in an incorrigibly hostile stance to Jews than they do about the political goal of achieving Palestinian independence. But it isn't purely symbolic -- serious substantive rights are implicated here. While at some level acknowledge of Jewish religious and historical connection to the Western Wall is a recognition claim, Israelis and Jews still remember that they were forbidden to pray at the Wall when it was under Jordanian occupation. The refusal to acknowledge a Jewish connection to the site paves the way for a similar denial of religious freedom in the future -- particularly if the land itself is under Palestinian sovereignty (and even more particularly if the sovereign is Hamas). Frankly, if "moderate" Palestinian leaders are so invested in an absolutist stance against Jewish history and religious practice that they'll sacrifice their own state on the principle, there is little reason to believe that they'll be particularly inclined to respect religious liberty and freedom over the Temple Mount site once they gain possession over it.

I believe in putting pressure on Israel to get rid of the settlements and get them back to the negotiating table. Palestinian malfeasance is no justification for a response in kind, and the settlements particularly can't be justified under any plausible rationale. But there is plenty of truth to the point that Palestinians have refused to negotiate in good faith for a long time now -- and the primary area where they dig in their heels isn't in how they relate to Israel, but how they relate to Jews. There is a seemingly intractable opposition within the PA to any sort of acknowledgment of Jewish equality, history, dignity, or experience. And Israelis and Jews are right to think that without that element, no amount of land will bring peace.


Anonymous said...

I feel like this two state solution thing is just a dance that we do because we don't want to face the horrible possibility that maybe it really is just Jew hatred plain and simple and that nothing the Jews do will appease it. Jews always "deserve it" we deserve it now because we are racist colonialist oppressors,we deserved it then because we were "ripping off" the Germans, we deserved it before that because we killed christ, we always "deserve it". So we hope that maybe we can make it right. Jews will give up tangible land for a beautiful nebulous promise of peace. For the hope that the Jew hating will cease. And if that doesn't work then maybe we'll give up more of the land, maybe all of it. And if that doesn't work maybe we'll just offer our throats and beg forgiveness. And if that doesn't work, well at least we tried. The only perfect Jew is a dead Jew. Living Jews always deserve it. So whatever, maybe if the Jews hand over the Temple Mount that will be enough. Since that IS Judaism's most holy site, if Jews can just hand it over then maybe the Jew haters won't need to kill our bodies. Since our spirits and souls will already be dead.

Barry Deutsch said...

I think you're placing a lot of weight on an interview that's only available in partial form, and that translated by a biased group whose reliability has been questioned.

But let's assume -- for the sake of argument, not because we actually know -- that the translation is accurate, and does not omit anything relevant.

Even in Memri's transation, the interviewer seemed skeptical of Erekat's truthfulness, pointing out that Erekat had once "proposed Palestinian sovereignty, with Israel playing a role in the administrative aspects" -- a position he now seems to deny ever having taken.

Furthermore, if Erekat says one thing in an interview on Al-Jazeera, and another thing in a different interview, why do you assume that everything he said on Al-Jazeera was the absolute truth?

Maybe it is true that in every negotiation from Camp David onward, Israel has offered the Palestinians everything in absolute good faith, only to be slapped aside by the Palestinians absolute commitment to, as you put it, "fucking over Jews," even if it means giving up everything they want.

On the other hand, it's also possible that negotiations have failed -- so far -- for reasons that don't make either side a perfect villain or a perfect saint, and that are much more complicated and nuanced than the simplistic cartoon you're describing in this post.

Personally, I think what's going on is that both sides are beating their chests and saying Jerusalem will never be divided. I'm just hoping that, like American politicians, Israeli and Palestinian politicians don't always mean every word they say in public.

David Schraub said...

That second "interview" (which is actually an article, by an outfit I've never even heard of called "Gaea news") doesn't clash with the first at all. At no point does Erekat say or imply "I'm willing to recognize that Jerusalem is a holy city to the Jews". It does clash with the subsidiary point that Diehl's article focused on (Erekat willing to simply wait until Israel gets weaker), but that's secondary to the thrust of this post.

The refusal to recognize Jewish connection to Israel and Jerusalem is, as noted, a longstanding PA position, which gives credence that it may be operating here. JPost's corroboration through J Street and Meretz supporter Shlomo Ben-Ami adds substantially to the weight of the evidence.

And contrary to your assertion, nothing in the post requires or implies that Israelis have always been saints and offering great deal after great deal only to be swatted aside. We need to take seriously Erekat's statement on why he rejected this deal. It's a problem if the PA has a redline over acknowledging Jewish experience, and it remains one even if it has other, reasonable redlines (Jerusalem as a capital, dismantle the settlements, land swaps for any annexed territory).

This isn't a Jewish conversion project -- the presumption is we don't have to ask three times once the right offer is on the table. Justifying Erekat's rejection of a deal that seemingly gave everything he wanted solely on the ground that it treated Jewish claims with dignity, because past Israeli offers weren't as good or prior Israeli malfeasance, is not on the level (and indeed, is a recipe for nobody ever signing anything).

If Erekat's own analysis of why he rejected the offer is accurate, it indicates that the deepest redline is respect for Jews, and that's scary. And it's something we're going to have to deal with at some point.

Rebecca said...

I don't know enough about Erekat and his own beliefs to make any definitive statements - but I wonder if the issue here is not an abstract one of not respecting Jews from a nationalistic perspective, but a religious belief (either a Muslim or a Christian) one that Jews/Judaism are inferior to Islam/Christianity. (I don't know if Erekat is Muslim or Christian so I don't know which would apply). Certainly classic Christian and Muslim theology regard Jews/Judaism as inferior and not worth respecting.