US Secretary of State John Kerry has succeeded in tailoring yet another peace initiative to appease Israel. But it took Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no time to effectively reject the offer, telling Kerry and company it was not occupation – it was all “about a Jewish state”.
American diplomacy in the Middle East must be barren and dull. On average, every three to five years – after full consultations with Israel – the US comes up with a new peace plan. Israel’s typical response is conditional approval, rendering such proposals dead on arrival.
In meeting with Kerry, Arab officials accompanied by a Palestinian “fig leaf” agreed last week to amend the Arab Peace Initiative. They essentially consented to terms demanded by Israel to swap areas seized in 1948 with lands occupied in 1967, but this is like allowing a bank robber to use the cash he stole to pay his bail. Private ownership is sacrosanct under international law and in Western democracies.
Even as a recognized entity, Israel has no legal right to exchange privately owned land without obtaining relinquishment deeds from the lawful owners. Arab officials somehow hope that it will help the US pressure Israel to stop building illegal Jewish-only colonies.
However, instead of Israel changing its position it is the US that ends up bending to new Israeli conditions.
Phase one of the June, 2003 roadmap for peace – outlined by then US president George W Bush – called on Israel to “freeze on settlement expansion”. On April 14, 2004 and before a year had even passed, Bush accepted Israel’s conditional approval, considering it “unrealistic” to remove illegal colonies – but “realistic” to deny the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
At the beginning of his first term in office, President Barack Obama called on Israel to comply with previous peace accords and cease settlement activities. Following an Israeli rebuff, Obama back-pedaled and adopted Israel’s view – calling on Palestinians to negotiate over splitting the “pizza” while Israel was already eating it.
Israel will continue to raise the ante for as long as American administrations are willing to succumb to its wishes. Likewise, the US has no reason to come down hard on Israel as long as Arab officials are willing to concede. Ironically, I find myself agreeing with the Israeli Prime Minister: the issue is all about the ethnocentric identity of Israel as a “Jewish state”.
The danger is that recognizing Israel as a Jewish ethnocentric state would pre-empt the right of return for Palestinians expelled from their homes in 1948 and render the rights of native, non-Jewish Palestinian-Israeli citizens second to Ashkenazi converts. Israel already practices blatant discrimination against non-Jews, even without the license it seeks from the international community.
Unlike Jews, supposed Palestinian-Israeli citizens do not have equal access to lease or purchase property. The basic law for the Israel Land Authority, which controls 93 per cent of land, states that land is held in perpetuity to benefit “Jewish people” only.
Even when native Israeli citizens of Palestinian heritage are able to purchase property, they must then overcome profound racism in Israeli society.
Last March, a Palestinian family with Israeli citizenship purchased a house in a new development in the historical city of Acre. After finding out, Jewish residents of the Hakerem neighborhood gathered waiving Israeli flags and imploring the Jewish seller to cancel the sale.
Palestinians should reject the idea of an ethnocentric state for the same reasons every other Jewish organization in every other country would object to exclusionary laws.
If ethnocentrism is not good for the US or Europe, it must not be Kosher for Israel.
* Mr Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes weekly newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.