The media reported that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the peace proposals submitted by U.S. Secretary John Kerry. The Palestinians leaked that Abbas sent a letter to Kerry reiterating his complete opposition to the demand to recognize "Israel as a Jewish state." This was declared a "red line" the Palestinians would not cross.
This "red line" is not just about semantics, but the essence of the conflict. The Palestinian position amounts to denying the Jews the right to establish their state in their homeland. It also indicates without any doubt that the Palestinians, despite the conventional wisdom, are not ripe for reaching a historic compromise with Zionism, the Jewish national revival movement. A stable peace based on mutual recognition and ending all demands is not in the cards. The weak PA seems to accept partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states (perhaps in accordance with the stages approach championed by the Palestine Liberation Organization), but it still refrains from accepting the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.
This is in stark contrast to Israel, which recognized the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians" back at the September 1978 Camp David Accords, and which is ready for generous territorial concessions in order to implement a partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine. The bitter truth is that the asymmetry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not changed for over a century. In essence, this ethno-religious conflict is not about territory, although it obviously has a territorial dimension, but about securing the recognition of the other side to national rights in a given territory.
Despite the image of untrustworthiness, Palestinians give great importance to the language used in the documents they are asked to sign. Yasser Arafat, generally viewed by most Israelis as an accomplished liar, refused to sign an agreement in 2000 that included a clause about an end to all demands. For him the conflict could end only by the eventual demise of Israel. Similarly, Abbas cannot bring himself to put his signature to a document which says that the Jews have returned to their homeland. We know that the perception of Jews being foreign invaders of Palestine is a fundamental widespread Palestinian attitude, which is instilled in the younger generations in the PA-run schools.
The entrenchment of such attitudes is clear also by the lack of a debate among the Palestinians whether to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Discussing Jewish rights to the Land of Israel is not conceivable in the current intra-Palestinian deliberations. Not even the so-called Palestinian moderates are calling for a debate among the Palestinians on whether to recognize the right of self-determination of the Jews in their historic homeland. Polls of Palestinians do not ask whether Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state. Normative language mentioning rights and international norms in Palestinian discourse is reserved for Palestinian demands only and is never applied in an attempt to understand what Israelis want.
The efforts of the Palestinian media to negate the Jewish past and historic links to the Temple Mount and even the Western Wall all indicate the ideological commitment to rewrite history. Palestinian archaeology is similarly used to erase all traces of Jewish presence from the land. Even Koranic sources mentioning the links of the Jews to the Land of Israel are ignored. Such Palestinian behavior serves only to prolong the conflict because it does not teach the Palestinians that Jews are part of the history of this land. All these acts are intolerable and must stop before Israel considers signing a comprehensive peace agreement.
It was a mistake not to insist on recognition of Israel being a Jewish state in the negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands well the need for such recognition on the part of the Palestinians to ensure a historic peace deal and his insistence on getting it in the framework of a comprehensive settlement is right on the mark.
Moreover, Palestinians are different than Egyptians or Jordanians that were not required to accept Israel as a Jewish state. They have no claims to Palestine, while it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who fight for the same piece of land. Since the Israelis recognized Palestinian legitimate rights 35 years ago, it is high time for the Palestinians to learn about the "other" with whom they are in conflict, and reciprocate if they are serious about peacemaking.
Professor Efraim Inbar is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.