When regional leaders agree to give New York Times interviews they don sheep's clothing, presenting themselves as advocates and seekers of world peace. This was how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented himself when he recently explained the PA's position on the outline of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's framework agreement. His placatory verbal acrobatics, however, were stunted by one thing -- his refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
The Palestinians, and their Israeli collaborators, claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fabricated the concept of the "Jewish state" to torpedo the "two states for two people" solution. If this is true, why has Abbas refrained from unmasking the prime minister and proving this issue false? There can only be one explanation -- the demand for the recognition of a Jewish state is not a media spin, but an issue of real substance, which peace seekers cannot ignore.
The meaning of the term "Jewish state" is a state that cannot be flooded by foreigners to the point where it changes its demographic character, meaning there can be no "right of return" for the descendants of the 1948 refugees.
Anyone who would recognize Israel as the Jewish state as part of a peace deal would announce the de facto end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and relinquish any future demands of Israel.
So why does Abbas insist on the issue?
I attended a conference hosted by the right-wing B'Sheva newspaper on Monday. When a participant asked why Abbas refuses to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords, had an interesting answer: because it proves that he is honest.
After all, Pundak said, Abbas could have just agreed to a "Jewish state," get what was promised to him and then resume his demands, thus perpetuating fraud against the world. That fact that he chooses to act differently is to his credit.
Perhaps it is to his credit, but still -- why does Abbas insist on refusing to accept a "Jewish state"? The only answer is that in his honesty, he does not see an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines as the end of the conflict and all mutual demands.
Abbas' refusal to accept this term is worthy of two correlating responses: harsh American criticism over his obstinacy, which makes one wonder why Kerry has so far refrained from painting an equally bleak picture of the PA's future should the peace talks fail; and a realistic understanding that there is no real Palestinian peace partner, which is why Israel should strive to reach an interim agreement and have it brokered by the U.S., the European Union and, if possible, the Arab League.
Israel, and, to be honest, anyone else who has a true interest in the Middle East conflict, should do their best to paint Abbas into a corner. Say, for the sake of argument, that Netanyahu is looking for a way to evade a deal -- why would you, as the Palestinian leader, shy away from meeting a just demand made by all the other parties that approach the peace talks in good faith?
Abbas may have an answer to that, but he does not have a legitimate reason.