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It's all in a final-status arrangement

By: Shaul Arieli, Ha'aretz Op-Ed

Date: 10.05.2009


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not be allowed to treat Israel's status as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people cynically. In an attempt to avoid negotiations, Netanyahu is once again seeking for Israel international recognition and legitimacy that have already been given. The Palestinians accepted this legal recognition in the past and will do so again, but only in a final-status agreement. The two sides cannot claim international legitimacy for their points of view while ignoring certain UN resolutions.

The international institutions that decided on the establishment of the State of Israel - the League of Nations and UN - have seen it not only as the Jewish state but also the home of the Jewish people. The 1922 British White Paper stated that a "national home" would be set up in Palestine for the Jewish people. "For the fulfillment of this policy it is necessary that the Jewish community in Palestine should be able to increase its numbers by immigration," the paper said. In other words, the Jewish state in Palestine was seen as an effective way to ensure that the Jewish people could control their fate and maintain their unique culture.

Immigration was encouraged to ensure that the Jews would enjoy a majority, the basic condition in a democracy for establishing the character of a state. In 1947, the UN General Assembly also adopted the recommendations of the UN Special Commission on Palestine in the form of the Partition Plan - Resolution 181 of November 29. Here it was stated that both the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate included an international commitment to the Jewish people, and that this was not limited to the Jewish population in Palestine. These commitments can thus also be seen as anchoring the Law of Return of 1950, which gives every Jew the right to live in Israel and establishes the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Therefore, historic rights and international legitimacy are embedded safely in formal declarations. To these can be added the Palestinian declaration of independence of November 1988, which became the Palestinians' first recognition of the Jewish state when they referred to Resolution 181 and noted how it divided Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. As a result, the prime minister cannot ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state by preconditions, but only by agreements on all issues.

First, borders must be seen as the most important way to implement the objective, not as the objective itself, given by divine command. Until 1967, the Zionist movement proved it could implement all its basic aims within the Green Line and that it would be satisfied with this if it achieved peace agreements with its neighbors.

Therefore, disengagement from the Palestinians in the territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state are a Zionist imperative. This is to be done around the Green Line and not on the "map of vital interests" that Netanyahu drew up in 1988, which leaves only 40 percent of the West Bank for a "Palestinian entity."

Second, it will be possible for Jerusalem to receive international recognition as Israel's capital only if the prime minister removes from the myth of a united Jerusalem the 28 Arab neighborhoods and villages added to the city in 1967 and makes it possible for the 270,000 Palestinians there to exchange their Israeli residency for Palestinian citizenship.

Third, repeated recognition by the Palestinians of a Jewish state will not do away with the refugee issue. The past decade shows that a comprehensive agreement on all core issues is the way to settle matters according to Israel's liking. The Arab peace initiative provides an opportunity to solve the problem without the right of return.

Air power is not the only way to ensure Israel's security. Along with the demilitarization of the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the Palestinian state, as the Americans intend, we will need regional arrangements and treaties. These are also embodied in the Arab peace initiative.

Rhetorical demands waste time that could be used for negotiations; they also open the door to a situation in which Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state could be harmed. Final-status agreements have twice proved themselves as a way of ensuring Israel's existence as a Jewish state and as a member of the family of nations.

The writer is a member of the board of the Council for Peace and Security, and one of the initiators of the Geneva Initiative.

Shaul Arieli's Article has spured a lively debate among readers of the U.S based Oregonian on-line newspaper