Ethnic cleansing as state policy
The very concept of Israel as a "Jewish state" is both justification for, and a declaration of intent to carry out, ethnic cleansing, writes Nicola Nasser*
In his speech at Bar Ilan University on 14 June, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proposed a new Israeli "peace plan" with preconditions that any Palestinian negotiator must first meet before he would "promptly" engage in "unconditional" bilateral talks on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. His preconditions add to the 14 others the government of comatose former premier Ariel Sharon attached to Israel's begrudging adoption of the 2003 roadmap plan for peace, on the basis of which the US administration of President Barack Obama and his presidential envoy George Mitchell are now urging an early resumption of "immediate" Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Sharon's conditional approval of the roadmap plan condemned the blueprint as a non-starter, led to the Israeli military reoccupation of autonomous Palestinian areas, aborted former US President George W Bush's two times promise to Palestinians to have their own state, and doomed the so-called peace process since the Madrid Conference in 1991 to its current impasse that Obama and Mitchell are trying to break through. It is a forgone conclusion that Netanyahu's preconditions (Palestinian recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state", "demilitarisation" of the prospective less-than- sovereign Palestinian state, and preserving Israel's illegitimate "right" to expand its illegal colonial Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories) will fare worse than Sharon's conditions.
Netanyahu demanded that the "Palestinian population" (not the Palestinian people) that lives "in Judea and Samaria" (not in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory), where there is an "Israeli presence" (not an Israeli military occupation) should first agree to a "public, binding and unequivocal" recognition that Israel is "the nation state of the Jewish people" worldwide, not the nation state of the Israelis. His demand was ridiculed by Gideon Levy in Haaretz on 15 June as coming from "one who has failed to recognise the Palestinians as a people", and by Ben Caspit, Maariv 's chief political columnist, who wrote the next day, "Welcome, Mr Prime Minister, to the 20th century. The problem is that we're already in the 21st." Moreover, such a precondition "is almost humiliating and it is unlikely to be met", according to Avi Issacharoff, writing in Haaretz 17 June.
Israeli analyst M J Rosenberg wrote 19 June: "Acceptance of Israel as a 'Jewish state' is a non- starter at this point. And Netanyahu knows it. If that is a precondition for negotiations, there will be no negotiations. But without any definition of borders and with Netanyahu committed to expanding settlements in the West Bank, how can anyone seriously expect Palestinians to recognise Israel as a 'Jewish state?'" Aaron David Miller, a former senior US negotiator in the Mideast, said Netanyahu's speech "was less about pursuing Arab-Israeli peace and much more about pursuing the US-Israeli relationship."
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad noted in a speech at Al-Quds University 22 June that his Israeli counterpart's speech missed all reference to the roadmap as well as to the thorny issue of expanding settlements, describing it as "a new blow to efforts to salvage the peace process." Head of the Department of Negotiations Affairs of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Saeb Erekat, also condemned Netanyahu's speech as a "non-starter". Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to isolate him and his government.
Also Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of Abbas and the US and Israel's 30- year unwavering peace partner, said Netanyahu's preconditions "abort the chance for peace," though he declined to heed Abbas's call for the isolation of Netanyahu and received him and others of his cabinet. Al-Baath, the mouthpiece of Syria's ruling party, commented: "Netanyahu has confirmed that he rejects the Arab initiative for peace." In an editorial on 16 June, the Saudi Arabian English daily, Arab News, said his speech was "a challenge to the world community."
In Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt, a leading figure of the March 14 bloc, which recently won the Lebanese elections, lambasted the speech as dragging the region to a "dangerous stage" and one that "completely crippled" any possibility to reach a peace settlement, adding that, "any talk about Israel as a Jewish state means closing the file on the [Palestinian right of] return," on which there is consensus among rival Lebanese factions to reject the resettlement of half a million Palestinian refugees hosted by Lebanon since 1948.
However, Obama and Mitchell insensitively ignored all negative Palestinian and Arab reactions, repeatedly, and on record renamed Israel as the "Jewish state of Israel", with Obama lightly trying to defuse the explosiveness of Netanyahu's demand by stating that it was "exactly what negotiations are supposed to be about," while Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini added that "this is what both America and Europe are asking."
Angrily describing Netanyahu as a "swindler" who plays "tricks" with peacemaking, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the PLO's Executive Committee, said the Israeli premier wants Palestinians to "become Zionists". Mere heartfelt commitment to Zionism will not be enough, however, Hasan and Ali Abunimah wrote on the Electronic Intifada website on 17 June, as for the Palestinians' conversion to have "practical meaning", Netanyahu explained, "there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders." In other words, "Palestinians must agree to help Israel complete the ethnic cleansing it began in 1947-48, by abandoning the right of return," the Abunimah brothers added.
In a statement, five PLO member factions -- namely the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People's Party, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement and the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front -- said Netanyahu's speech was "tantamount to a declaration of war on Palestinians' national rights". For the first time since the Palestinian-Israeli "peace process" was launched nearly 20 years ago, the voice of PLO peace partners was much louder and harsher in criticising Israel than that of their opposition among non-PLO factions, like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Netanyahu seems to have succeeded where four years of Egyptian efforts failed to make Palestinians speak in one voice.
When Netanyahu makes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state" the cornerstone of his "peace" policy, and has Avigdor Lieberman, who calls on record for the transfer of Israeli Arab Palestinians, as foreign minister of his ruling coalition, he officially raises ethnic cleansing to the level of state policy, and perhaps this is why French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly urged Netanyahu, visiting 30 June, to replace his top diplomat and "to get rid of that man", whom he declined to meet when Lieberman was recently in Paris. Leading Israeli Knesset member Afu Aghbaria (Hadash) and 10 others of his parliamentary colleagues have called on world leaders to declare the "racist" Lieberman persona non-grata. Another Hadash MP, Hanna Swaid, wrote to Mitchell: "The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state harms [Israeli] Arab citizens (25 per cent of the population), undermines their legal status in the country and puts them at the heart of the struggle with no representation in the negotiations."
Recognising Israel as a "Jewish state" should be rejected not only because it politically forecloses whatever chance remains for the resumption of peace talks and sets the regional stage for the alternative (which another peace partner to Israel, Jordan's King Abdullah II, has repeatedly warned against, saying it "would have adverse and catastrophic consequences on the whole region"), but more importantly because strategically such a precondition, if it gains international recognition, would inevitably be used by Israel as a casus belli to officially resume and defend its ethnic cleansing of native Arab Palestinians. Within reach would become the long-held dream of ultra Zionists to throw "the Arabs into the sea", using the words of Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, who was speaking at the Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv 25 June.
Israeli governmental and parliamentary officials of Netanyahu's ruling coalition criticised Ehud Barak's support for "a state for all its citizens". It is instructive here to recall the reaction of Israel's first prime minister and the forefather of ethnic cleansing, David Ben- Gurion, to the news that world-renowned physicist Albert Einstein declined the offer of the Israeli presidency in 1952: "Tell me what to do if he says yes! If he accepts, we are in trouble," he said, because Einstein "would distinguish between the Jewish homeland and state, and argued for a bi-national state where Jews and Arabs shared a common land, not a strictly defined 'Jewish state'," reports Fred Jerome in Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas about the Middle East.
More instructive than Einstein's arguments and Ben-Gurion's reaction was US President Harry S Truman's proclamation, just 11 minutes after the Israel's unilateral declaration of independence, that, "The United States recognises the provisional government (proclaimed by Jews "in Palestine") as the de facto authority of the new state of Israel," and not as "the new Jewish state" as proposed by the American Jewish leaders, crossing out the proposed words and replacing them in his own handwriting with "the new state of Israel." Obviously, Netanyahu's precondition "was devised because Netanyahu understands that Palestinians will never accept it because it negates their standing in a land they have inhabited from time immemorial," according to Rosenberg 14 June.
Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, visiting Israel 28 June, said in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post : "First, we have to understand what is meant by this [Jewish state demand]. So far, I can say that I don't have a clear picture on that." "Resolution 181 (UN Resolution 181, also called the 1947 UN Partition Plan) calls for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. But at the same time it gives equal rights to all of its citizens," said Kohout, who seemed not interested in recent history to note that the Israel recognised by UN Resolution 181 -- which at the time had a population of some 500,000 Jews and 438,000 Arab Palestinians -- is very much smaller than the one we know now, which enjoys de facto, but not yet de jure, international recognition.
To ethnically cleanse the Palestinians was the very basis of Israel's raison-d'être. Speaking of the Arabs of Palestine ( Complete Diaries, 12 June 1895 entry), Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organisation, said: "Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly." The tragic result was summarised by Israel's minister of defence during the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan (reported in Haaretz, 4 April 1969): "Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal Al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."
It seems clear now that the UN General Assembly Resolution 4686 of 1991, which revoked an earlier one equating Zionism with racism (UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975), was premature.
Kohout is not a rare species in demanding to "understand what is meant" by the "Jewish state" precondition. The Israeli leadership seems now in the grips of a "ghetto mentality", racing against the modern times of pluralism and coexistence, when nations are moving towards a globalised 21st century identity of citizenship by allegiance, regardless of race, creed or gender, and at a time when the French translation of Israeli academic Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People is granted this year's prestigious Aujourd'hui Award -- a book that argues that Zionism in modern times "invented" the concept of the "Jewish people" as well as their "imaginary" historical connection to Palestine.
* The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit in the occupied Palestinian territories.