The Problem Is Palestinian Rejectionism
Demanding Palestinian recognition of Israel without offering a matching Israeli concession is the least productive means of advancing genuine political progress.
A pair of recent articles in this magazine highlighted two sides of Israel's current dilemma: the country does need to end the occupation, but Israelis also remain deeply skeptical of Palestinian intentions, and with good reason. Only one thing will break the paralysis of the Israeli center: if the Palestinians accept Israel's basic legitimacy.
Nearly two decades of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have failed miserably. The key reason for this failure is the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The basic paradigm of the Oslo accords, signed in 1993, held that both the Israelis and the Palestinians were, at long last, prepared to recognize the legitimacy of each other’s national rights and aspirations. With that essential threshold crossed, it was thought, all that would remain was to work out a compromise on core issues: where to draw borders, whether and how to divide Jerusalem, and how to resolve the Palestinian demand that refugees from the 1948 war be allowed to return to Israel.
That, at least, was the theory. Yet over the course of the last 18 years, during which negotiations were conducted along these lines, the rhetoric and actions of the Palestinian leadership have proved that paradigm wrong. The Palestinians have not in fact recognized the legitimacy of the national rights of the Jewish people. Consider, for example, the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate with Israel over the past year, a result, they say, of continued settlement construction in Jerusalem and beyond the 1967 lines. This is a dubious claim given that the Palestinians have never made halting construction a precondition before. And when Israel did freeze settlement building for ten months in 2009–10, the Palestinians still refused to talk, only agreeing to do so at the last moment and even then only to prevent a crisis in their relations with the United States...
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