Palestine unites all. Just when it was thought the recent Arab summit in Kuwait was dithering and in deep malaise with inter-Arab tensions and conflicts in the high seat, the Palestinian cause quickly changed all that.
The speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas proved the rallying ground for the 22-member Arab delegations to recharge their energies and refocus their efforts to castigate Israel for its constant renewable demands and conditions for the revitalisation of the peace process.
In an almost point blank, no nonsense, robust atmosphere, the Kuwaiti Declaration of the annual Arab League’s 25 summit expressed its rejection of recognising the “Jewish identity” of Israel, which the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now stressed the Palestinians must undertake as a premium for putting the peace process back on track.
The Arab delegations, which included 13 heads of state is on record for saying “we express our absolute and decisive rejection to recognise Israel as a Jewish state,” and for holding it responsible for the flagging peace process.
On the other hand, they stressed significance of supporting the Palestinian cause, which is “core” in the Arab world. These are strong words indeed and designed to give a moral and psychological boost to the Palestinians.
Abbas is clearly angry with the constant foot-dragging and changing demands made by Israeli policy-makers. The latest being so forthrightly put by Netanyahu as stating that the Palestinians must recognise Israel “as a national homeland of the Jewish people,” and “recognition of Israel as a Jewish state,” as if this is something new to the Palestinians and as if they have not be living under the evils of the occupation and subjected to being uprooted both in 1948 and 1967.
Many onlookers, seasoned political practitioners and international diplomats, might be baffled by all this sudden terminology. Many may privately say Palestinians have already succumbed to the idea that Israel already exists whether ‘we like it or not’— it has character, entity and trappings of statehood — and they are living under the barrel of the Israeli gun and tank and to deny otherwise would be living in a cuckoo land, which is meaningless in a world of nation states and international relations.
The peace process which started in Madrid in the early 1990s and followed by subsequent meetings and rendezvous between the Palestinian and Israeli delegations is surely enough evidence of how realistically the Palestinians came to view Israel and how they have come to accept against their will that their land had become divided and they have lived for long as the injured party.
And surely all that proves that Israel does exist, and if its politicians insist otherwise, then something must be wrong in the Israeli psychology. And the very clear fact is that it is the Israelis who are stalling by being deliberately negative and evasive in their approach to peace-making.
Palestinian politicians saddled in Ramallah and different cities in the West Bank and Gaza may have finally caught on and are now playing the same political game. Aside, and not in fear of a flagging peace process, they are saying no to Netanyahu and that Israel will not get its way because it is already obstructing legitimate Palestinian demands.
What Netanyahu claims about the Palestinians torpedoing the peace process is not how it is and the international community knows full well that it is Israel, which is accelerating the building of colonies in the West Bank, destroying houses in Palestinian villages and continuing with its grand designs on places like occupied East Jerusalem.
These activities have been going on for decades but the issue of “Jewish recognition” and “Jewish identity” is certainly so transparent of the unwillingness of Israel to make peace, that it is laughable.
Of course the Palestinians understand only too well the new Israeli political game. That’s why they are sticking to their traditional principles outlined by Abbas’s speech in the Kuwaiti summit last week which he put forward for the umpteenth time — including establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, having East Jerusalem as capital of the state, Palestinian control over all of its territory including borders and natural assets as well as the right of return of Palestinian refugees according to the UN Resolution 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
While Israel may in theory be willing to negotiate on all aspects, the return of refugees as dictated by Resolution 194 of 1948 is clearly a nightmare for them. Israel has already positioned its existence on the hundreds of thousands of refugees it forced out of their homes in 1948 while subsequently changing the geographical terrain of the area and uprooting Palestinian villages and populating them with incoming Jewish colonists.
The refugee file is clearly like opening up a can of worms, old wounds that need to be healed. That’s why Israel insists that the Jewish identity and the concept of “Jewishness” should be recognised by the Palestinian politicians and policy-makers to try to put a cap on the issue of who can enter and who can’t in any eventual settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
That may indeed be the real reason for Israeli foot-dragging and which now seems certain that next month’s peace process deadline would be missed. US Secretary of State John Kerry knows that and everybody is bracing themselves for a dateline extension beyond the end of April.
It is also why the Kuwait summit declaration may have come at an opportune moment to send out the strongest message from the Arabs of their dismay and frustration with Israel and its actions.
Marwan Asmar is a commentator based in Amman. He has long worked in journalism and has a Phd in Political Science from Leeds University in the UK.