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.
The true reason for the intransigence among Palestinian officials has nothing to do with settlement building; rather, it is their continued rejection of the Jewish character of Israel. The Palestinians are fully aware that once they sit down at the negotiating table and agreement is reached on all other outstanding issues, they will need to answer whether they are ready to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. And as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the