Netanyahu’s ‘Jewish state’ stipulation a red herring

US has failed in Mideast because it has acted like Israel’s advocate rather than an impartial intermediary

The United Nations, the EU, Russia and the US, as members of “the Quartet,” have stepped into the breach to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians before the UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood takes place. The US, long ago referred to as an honest broker, is now recognized as unfit because it is inextricably entwined with Israel’s interests. Its decades-long efforts have failed because it has acted like Tel Aviv’s advocate rather than an impartial intermediary.

The Quartet has produced a time-lined proposal aimed at the two-sides reaching agreement by the end of 2012 but, thus far, neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have given their okay. The US terms the proposal as “realistic and serious” but given that President Barack Obama promised the Palestinians a state by September this year and now says his country will veto the Palestinians’ UN application for statehood, Washington’s pledges are no longer credible.

While the Israeli government looks upon the proposal favorably subject to study, the Palestinian Authority (PA) say it’s unacceptable because it does not address the need for Israel to cease settlement expansion and fails to stipulate that any new Palestinian state should be drawn along pre-1967 borders as Obama advocated earlier this year before he was slapped down by the Israeli lobby and Congress.

Abbas insists that the ethnic cleansing (his words) of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the construction of Jewish homes on the West Bank must cease before face-to-face talks can resume. He’s absolutely right to set that precondition when as each month passes Israel steps up construction shrinking even the 22 percent of historic Palestine that the PA has agreed to accept.

For his part, Netanyahu says, “The core of the conflict is not the settlements. The settlements are a result of the conflict.” He maintains that the main barrier between the two parties is the “the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border.” This is nothing but flimflam from a man who calls the West Bank “Judea and Samaria,” which he believes is an integral part of the Biblical Jewish homeland.

During his speech to the UN General Assembly, the Israeli leader talked about an ancient ring discovered near the Wailing Wall inscribed with his name “Netanyahu” disingenuously giving the impression that the original owner might have been an ancestor when his Polish father—who served as a secretary to the ‘Father of Revisionist Zionism,’ Ze’ev Jabotinsky,—changed the family surname from Mileikowsky to Netanyahu. He emphasized that Jews had wandered the hills of Judea and Samaria since the time of the Prophet Abraham. Seriously, does this sound like a man eager to relinquish that land?

He claimed that Palestinians often claim Israel is guilty of Judaizing Jerusalem which, he says, is like accusing the US of Americanizing Washington—a flawed argument when the US is made up of immigrants who grabbed land from people who used to be called “Red Indians.” Netanyahu is a religious ideologue.

All he’s doing is playing for time until Palestinians on the West Bank can be squeezed onto a postage stamp, disregarding the danger that the PA might collapse leaving Israel legally responsible for the needs of the people it occupies and the potential for a two-state solution becoming nonviable when Palestinians will demand equal citizenship of Israel. If that happens, sheer demographics will make it impossible for Israel to ever call itself a Jewish state.

As for his insistence that the Palestinians must first recognize the Jewish state and make peace with Israel before attaining statehood, this, again, is just another delaying tactic. The PLO recognized Israel in a de facto sense on the day Yasser Arafat signed up to Oslo and made what Arafat termed “the peace of the brave.” As long as the Palestinians recognize the Israeli state it shouldn’t matter to Netanyahu whether they accept that state to be Jewish, Buddhist or even whether it is run by the Moonies.

Ah! But it does. Because if the PA admits Israel is exclusively a state for Jews, an admission that would be enshrined in peace accords, where does that leave Arab Israelis and Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora?

Especially when there are some Israeli legislators pushing for Arab Israelis to be relocated to any new Palestinian territorial entity and Netanyahu has announced that the Palestinians are dreaming if they imagine Palestinian refugees can ever return to their homes in Israel. Netanyahu knows this is impossible for Abbas to do which is why he’s pushing for it, hoping the world will heap blame on the Palestinians for the stalled peace talks.

In the past, I’ve criticized Abbas for being perceived to be the White House’s lapdog and Israel’s appeaser, receiving nothing in return except empty promises. But the Palestinian leader who stood before the General Assembly last Friday was no longer a mild-mannered bureaucrat ready to jump to America’s orders; this was a bold statesman who had finally decided “Enough, Enough, Enough.” He didn’t succumb to US and Israeli pressure to drop the bid for statehood and full UN membership. He didn’t roll over in the face of US threats to cut Palestinian aid or Israeli threats to withhold Palestinian taxes and annex parts of the West Bank. And he didn’t couch his speech in diplomatic language as he had always been wont to do in the past when the word “occupation” barely passed his lips.

Now that President Abbas has finally become his own man, comfortable in his skin and has most of the international community behind him, as evidenced by the prolonged standing ovation he received in the UN chamber, he is demanding the renegotiation of Oslo to allow Palestinians responsibility for their own economy, currently controlled by Tel Aviv. This is surely the time for the Arab nations to embrace him in every way, both financially and diplomatically. It’s tragic that Arab states are standing by as US and Israeli knives are being held to the Palestinians’ throat. Isn’t this a propitious moment for Arabs to sharpen a few knives of their own and to face the obvious: A country that is attached by an umbilical cord to their enemy cannot be their friend.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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