Monday, November 26, 2007

To Succeed, Annapolis Must Confirm the Legitimacy of the Jewish State

"We've come together this week because we share a common goal: two democratic states -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security. " So said President George W. Bush as he opened the Annapolis Conference. Indeed, everyone at Annapolis agrees on a two-state solution, but which two states? Specifically, will the Arab world accept not merely the existence of Israel, but also the existence of Israel as a Jewish state?

Hugh Hewitt.'s website quotes extensively from a column by Bernard Lewis in the Wall Street Journal, in which Professor Lewis assesses the potential for meaningful negotiations at Annapolis, and thereafter, in the following terms:

"If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist."

Well, I hope so, although with the Olmert government, one can never be certain.

Unfortunately, neither President Bush, nor Professor Lewis went quite far enough in their remarks, and I fear that in the case of the President, it was a deliberate ambiguity, attempting to diplomatically paper over the real issue of Middle East peace. That issue is the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

It is a true measure of Arab intransigence that the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is still considered open to question. The June 1922 League of Nations resolution establishing the British Mandate over Palestine stated as its purpose "the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine." United Nations General Assembly Resolution Number 181, passed November 29, 1947, provided for the partition of Palestine into "independent Arab and Jewish States."

However, Palestinian Arabs and the other Arab nations rejected the creation of a Jewish state in 1947, and have refused to recognize its legitimate existence ever since. Even today the Arabs continue to insist upon a right of not only all surviving Palestinian refugees from the 1947-1949 War of Israeli Independence, but also their millions of descendents, to live in Israel. That is the essence of the Arab League's much vaunted peace plan supposedly leading to recognition of Israel. Of course, any such two-state solution would comprise an entirely Arab state and a binational state with an Arab majority. That is not a recognition of Israel's existence; it is a plan for eradication of Israel's existence.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert certainly sold the Annapolis conference to the Israeli public as an opportunity to obtain Arab recognition of Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. On Monday, November 12, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "We won't hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state. This [Annapolis conference] is a launching point for all negotiations. We won't have an argument with anyone in the world over the fact that Israel is a state of the Jewish people. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me. This has been made clear to the Palestinians and the Americans."

Perhaps it was not made clear enough. In reaction to Prime Minister Olmert's statement, the lead negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat, declared that the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. During the Israeli-Palestinian talks leading up to Annapolis, directed toward agreement on a joint statement to be issued at the conference, the Palestinians refused to include the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in the draft declaration.

Based on Olmert's declaration, that refusal should have signalled the end of negotiations. The fact that Israel nonetheless is in attendence at Annapolis is therefore troubling, indicating that Olmert perhaps once again has erased a supposed red line. Still more troublesome are rumors floating today that the Annapolis Conference will indeed issue a joint declaration. If that is the case, and the declaration fails to include the principle of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the Annapolis declaration may some day be seen as the first step taken to undo UN General Assembly Resolution 181, and reverse international approval for the existence of a Jewish state.

That certainly is the declared goal of some parties attending the Annapolis conference. In addition to the public position taken prior to the Conference by the Palestinian Authority, the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad declared, via an editorial in state newspaper Teshreen, that its goal at Annapolis is "to foil Olmert's plan to force Arab countries to recognize Israel as a Jewish state." (That declaration is one of the reasons why Bret Stephens, in today's Wall Street Journal, calls into question the wisdom of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in inviting Syria to participate at Annapolis.)

Now the opinion of the Assad regime matters little. The opinion of the United States, however, matters a great deal. That is why I find so disturbing the omission from the President's remarks of the principle of the legitimacy of Israel not merely to exist, but to exist as a Jewish State. One hopes that it was just diplomacy, indicative of a desire not to rock the boat at the conference's opening dinner. Yet, even so, what is the justification for such reticence? The international community approved the existence of a Jewish state in 1922, and again in 1947. President Bush has not hesitated to declare his support for a Palestinian state living beside Israel. He likewise should forgo all diplomatic ambiguity, and forthrightly declare to the Arab world that peace in the Middle East requires Arab recognition of the legitimate existence of Israel as a Jewish state.


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