About five years ago, I was invited by the Hoover Institution to lecture at Stanford University over the course of a week. Coincidentally, Israel’s Independence Day fell during that week, so I was invited to speak at the celebration held by pro-Israel students. In my talk, I noted that the crux of the problem in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was that most Palestinians wanted Israel to cease to exist.
After my talk, a woman walked over to me and introduced herself as a peace activist. She told me that she could not agree with me because Palestinians, in her view, were quite willing to accept Israel’s existence.
As it happened, about 50 feet behind the pro-Israel celebration was an anti-Israel demonstration led by Palestinian students. So I told the woman to go over and introduce herself to the Palestinian students as a peace activist – that way they would immediately trust her – and ask them if they were willing to acknowledge the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist. I told her that I would bet her $5 that they would not answer in the affirmative.
She accepted the bet and walked over the Palestinian students.
After about 10 minutes, she returned.
“So,” I asked her, “who won the bet?”
“I don’t know,” she responded.
“I don’t understand,” I replied. “Didn’t they answer you?”
“They asked me, ‘What do you mean?’” she answered.
I told her she owed me $5 but that I wouldn’t collect.
Earlier this month in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, I interviewed Ghassan Khatib, director of government media for the Palestinian Authority and the spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. I asked him the same question: Do the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state?
He was more direct than the Palestinians students at Stanford.
His long answer amounted to: “No.”
There is no Jewish people, he told me, so how could there be a Jewish country? The Palestinian position is that there is a religion called Judaism, but there is no such thing as a Jewish people. (Interestingly, the Jews are referred to belonging to a religion only once in the entire Hebrew Bible – in the Book of Esther, by the anti-Semite Haman.)
In other words, Palestinians – people in a national group that never existed by the name “Palestine” until well into the 20th century – deny the existence of the oldest continuous nation in the world, dating back over 3,000 years. Now, that’s real chutzpah.
Indeed, the Palestinians deny that the Jews ever lived in Israel. That is why Yasser Arafat could not even admit that Jesus was a Jew; rather, according to Arafat, “Jesus was a Palestinian.” To acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew would mean that Jews lived in Israel thousands of years ago, in a Jewish state, moreover – long before Muslims existed, long before Arabs moved there and millennia before anyone called himself a Palestinian.
In the Palestinian president’s speech to the United Nations last week, this denial of Jewish history was reaffirmed. Thus, in a speech about Israel and the Palestinians, he never once uttered the word “Jew” or “Jewish.”
Here is an example of Abbas’s Jew-free view of the history of Israel/Palestine:
“I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) …”
No mention of Jews. Apparently, only Christians (Does Abbas know that Jesus was a Jew?) and Muslims have lived in “the Holy Land.” And for Abbas, the Holy Land is not Israel, it is Palestine. That it was the Jews who made that land Holy is a fact of history denied by the Palestinians.
Israel, in the Palestinian view, is an Israeli state, not a Jewish state.
As Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, wrote in the Washington Post this past Friday:
“Two Israeli peace proposals, in 2000 and 2008 … met virtually all of the Palestinians’ demands for a sovereign state in the areas won by Israel in the 1967 war – in the West Bank, Gaza and even East Jerusalem. But Palestinian President Yasser Arafat rejected the first offer and Abbas ignored the second, for the very same reason their predecessors spurned the 1947 Partition Plan. Each time, accepting a Palestinian state meant accepting the Jewish state, a concession the Palestinians were unwilling to make.”
That is the issue. Not settlements. Not boundaries. The Palestinians, like most of their fellow Arabs and like many Muslims elsewhere, have never acknowledged that the Jews came home to Israel because they have never acknowledged that the Jews ever had a national home there. And they don’t even acknowledge that the Jews are a people.
Do the Palestinians want peace? I have no doubt that they do. Just not with the Jewish state.