Right of return, not settlements, is nub of Mideast conflict

The late Israeli politician and foreign minister Abba Eban used to say, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Boy, did he have that right.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Kerry has been shuttling this week among Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in a frantic bid to get the peace negotiations back on track amid rising public anger among Palestinians over Israeli settlement activity and among Israelis over the release of Palestinian prisoners. (AP Photo/Brian Snyder, Pool)
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Dec. 12. (Brian Snyder/Pool photo via AP)

Consider this Jerusalem Post story:

The Palestinian Authority reiterated Monday its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The announcement came in response to statements attributed to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to the effect that the PA is ready to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. . . .

Lvini told Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) that he should “expect to be surprised” regarding the PA’s willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Livni was reacting to Orbach’s assertion that the Palestinians would never accept Israel as a Jewish state. But Erekat, head of the PA negotiating team, told the Voice of Palestine radio station that the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Erekat said that the Palestinians had already recognized Israel in 1993.

“I told minister Livni in Munich recently that we won’t change our history, culture and religion,” Erekat said. “We are not going to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

This is a reminder that Secretary of State John Kerry is not alone in the fantasyland of peace processing. American liberals like to think that, if only Bibi Netanyahu were not Israel’s prime minister, peace would be at hand. In fact it doesn’t matter from the PA’s point of view who heads the government; it isn’t prepared to recognize Israel and give up the right of return (which would eradicate Israel as a Jewish state).

During the Bush administration it was Livni who, when added how many Palestinians might be given the “right of return” in an overall peace, replied, “Zero.” What Israel’s critics contend is the mind-set of a “right wing” government represents wide agreement across left and right in Israel.

Erekat’s explanation provides needed insight into the PA’s thinking. The right of return is a matter of religious belief with the Palestinians. The PA has been saying for decades that the right of return is nonnegotiable. This is not a bargaining position, Erekat says, but rather a matter of “history, culture, religion.” It stands to reason that, unless the PA comes to regard the right of return as simply a bargaining issue, one worth foregoing in exchange for a state, the Palestinians will have no state.

And that is where we have been for decades. The notion that, under Bill Clinton or at any point thereafter, we were “so close” to a deal is diplomatic mythology. So long as the PA refuses to give up (not merely pause) its goal to destroy the Jewish state, there can’t, by definition, be peace. Israel and the PA might negotiate over smaller but meaningful issues, or at some point the Israelis may consider pulling back to a line that leaves major settlement blocs within Israel, but “peace” is largely in the Palestinians’ hands. Until then, Kerry (as Obama seems to understand, judging from the short shrift in the SOTU given to the topic) is wasting his time.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | February 11