What if Abbas says the magic words?

Published in The Jerusalem Post and in Israel Hayom, December 20, 2013.

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Might Netanyahu be creating a situation in which Israel will be pressed to fold completely? If Abbas recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, will Netanyahu be forced to match this “ultimate” Palestinian rhetorical “concession” with an ultimate Israeli territorial concession – withdrawal to the Green Line? 

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Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ultimate demand of the Palestinians is their acknowledgement of Israel’s legitimacy as the historic homeland of the Jewish People; their recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s just claim to (at least part of) the Land of Israel is needed as a bulwark against the irredentist and destructive Palestinian demand for refugee return, which would swamp Israel and destroy Israel’s unique Jewish character. It is meant to bring an end to the Palestinian political culture that that regards Israel as an illegitimate intrusion into the region. It is meant to bring finality to the conflict.

Netanyahu is right on making this a matter of principle in negotiations over a grand peace accord; one that truly will mark an end to all Palestinian and Arab claims against Israel. Halevai (how I wish) that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could bring himself to do so; to admit to Israel’s legitimacy as the Jewish state. It indeed would be a significant, historical moment of Arab-Israeli reconciliation.

But I ask: What if Mahmoud Abbas says the magic words? What if Abbas mutters a carefully-worded and specifically-dictated formulation in which he “accepts” Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? What if he grunts an acknowledgement of the Jewish People’s historic connection to the land? What if mumbles something about a “harmonious future for two states – one Palestinian and one Jewish,” or something like that?

That would be great, and important indeed. But then what? Then Israel is expected to roll lock, stock and barrel out of eastern Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria? Then Israel is expected to bow to the Clinton/Obama/Kerry/Abbas parameters for Israeli withdrawal? Then Israel’s security requirements and historic rights in Judea and Samaria vanish into thin air?

In other words, I am concerned about the dynamic that Netanyahu has set in place. By making the demand for Palestinian “acceptance” of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state – a significant rhetorical concession – into the ultimate Palestinian concession, Netanyahu is creating a situation in which Israel will be pressed to fold completely. He is creating a situation in which this “ultimate” Palestinian “concession” will have to be matched by an ultimate Israeli concession – such as the division of Jerusalem and acceptance of the 1967 lines as the baseline border between Israel and the Palestinian state.

By insisting that that Abbas cross his “red line” (which is what Abbas calls our demand for his recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; something he says he “never” will do), Netanyahu will be forced to violate Israel’s “red lines.”

In fact, I am concerned that Netanyahu has accepted this dynamic. He may knowingly be entering this situation, planning to use it as cover for explaining to the people of Israel his grudging withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank. He could seek to justify such an earth-shattering Israeli rollback by referencing Abbas’ “brave” and “earth-shattering” announcement. He might seek to anchor extensive Israeli territorial withdrawals in Abbas’ rhetorical withdrawal of Palestinian designs to destroy Israel.

YOU MIGHT SAY: Halevai that Israel should reach such a situation; it would be a good deal. But I think not. Consider the realities on the ground.

If Abbas were to say the magic words recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, would that make Israel sanguine about the nature of the Palestinian regime that rules in the West Bank? Or would Israel still be left to deal with a kleptocracy that has little legitimacy among its own population, and little ability to reign in the forces of radical Islam rising in its own territory?

If Abbas were to say the magic words recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, would that bring peace to southern Israel? Or would Israel still be left confronting a genocidal and armed-to-the-teeth Hamas government in Gaza?

If Abbas were to say the magic words recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, would that make it wise to withdraw Israeli troops from the highlands of Samaria or the border crossings on the Jordan, relying instead on American General Allen’s technological solutions? Or would continuing Israeli control of Areas C and ongoing IDF raids into Areas A and B still be necessary to ensure security in central Israel?

If Abbas were to say the magic words recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, would that make right an Israeli abandonment of Har Bracha, Beit El, Tekoa and Kiryat Arba? Or would this be an atrocity against the historical Jewish rights in the Land of Israel that Netanyahu so wants Abbas to recognize?

If Abbas were to say the magic words recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, would that make the sundering of united Jerusalem into competing sovereignties worthwhile? Or would it wreck the city for generations, bringing misery to Jews and Arabs alike, and heaping ignominy on Jewish and Zionist history?

In short, the “magic words” are not magic bullets that should win the jackpot for the Palestinians. They are a necessary ingredient of a true peace process, but they are not sufficient. Netanyahu must insist on real reforms of the Palestinian Authority, an end to Hamas rule in Gaza, wide-margins of territorial security, Israeli settlement rights, and the unity of Jerusalem – in addition to the magic words.

Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state should not automatically mean Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line. It should mean the beginning of real reconciliation and the opening of possibilities for a realistic peace in parameters hitherto unimaginable.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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