Last week, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon. While there, he traveled to a village near the Israeli border and made a provocative anti-Israel speech. He had originally planned to slither right up to the border fence and throw a stone at Israel. Although he later abandoned this plan, his point was clear. In word and in his deeds, Ahmadinejad is a man with a mission. And his mission is to destroy the State of Israel.
The talk of Ahmadinejad throwing a stone at Israel reminded me of a story I once read about Yasser Arafat. After organizing Fatah and dedicating it to the destruction of Israel, Arafat is said to have launched his war against Israel with a symbolic act. He slipped into the West Bank and threw a stone at Israel. There is, apparently, great symbolism in the gesture of a flinging a stone in the direction of one’s enemy.
These parallel gestures of contempt for Israel can teach us a great deal about Israel’s ongoing struggle for survival. It’s important to note that Arafat didn’t throw his stone at the West Bank; he threw it from the West Bank into Israel. At that time, Jordan – not Israel — controlled the West Bank. Yet Arafat chose to target Israel – not Jordan — because he rejected the existence of a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East. Likewise, Ahmadinejad did not plan to throw a stone into the West Bank as a gesture of opposition to Israel’s presence there. He planned to throw his stone at Israel’s northern border – part of Israel since its birth – because he too rejects Jewish independence in any part of their ancient land.
Yes, the Palestinians have made some changes since those early days. First Arafat and then his successors have recognized Israel and expressed a willingness to make a peace treaty with her in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet a debate still rages over whether these changes mark a true acceptance of the right of the Jewish people to independence in their land or merely a shift in tactics. Arafat’s continued support for terrorism even after he mouthed all of the right words about peace certainly boosted the case of skeptics who argued that these changes were merely tactical. The recent success of Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad in combating terror and building their economy has strengthened those who argue that a deeper change has taken place.
As this debate continues to rage, it seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu has interjected his own reality check. He has asked the Palestinians to recognize Israel not just as a de facto government, but as the nation state of the Jewish people. This is perhaps the ultimate test of whether the Palestinians are ready for true peace and reconciliation, or whether lands given to them would instead be used for future attacks on Israel. And the Palestinians wasted no time in responding that they absolutely refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Ever since the beginning of their national movement, Palestinian leaders have denied that the Jews are also a nation because such recognition suggests that the Jews also have a right to an independent state. And for decades, Palestinian leaders have denied that there is any Jewish historical connection to the Land of Israel, since such a connection indicates the obvious location for this Jewish state. Palestinian nationalism has been built on the dubious foundation of the rejection of Jewish nationalism.
The fact is, of course, that the Jews have been a people for over three thousand years. They are a people who were born in the Land of Israel. They are a people who lived out the stories of the Bible – and wrote them down – in the Land of Israel. They are a people who enjoyed self-rule in the Land of Israel for over a millennium, and who continued to constitute a majority in the Land of Israel for centuries after the Romans destroyed their temple and their capital. They are a people who have returned to their land whenever circumstances permitted thereafter.
Indeed, those Palestinians who deny Jewish nationhood are throwing stones at Israel while living in a national glass house. Even those of us willing to accept that the Palestinian Arabs constitute a separate people must also acknowledge that they are a relative newcomer to the family of nations. By most accounts – including those of Palestinian scholars – a distinctive Palestinian Arab nationalism dates back only to the early twentieth century. Many note that this notion did not gain widespread acceptance among the Palestinians themselves until the second half of the century.
Yet despite this shallow history, most Israelis are willing to recognize the Palestinian Arabs as a people distinct from all of the other Arab peoples. Most Israelis are willing to accept the notion that Palestinian Arab national aspirations cannot be satisfied in a Jordanian Arab or Egyptian Arab or Kuwaiti Arab context. They are willing to concede that the Palestinians need their own homeland – the 24th Arab nation in the world.
If the Israelis are willing to recognize the 24th Arab nation, is it not also proper that the Arabs recognize the one-and-only Jewish state? If the Israelis are willing to recognize the national rights of a people barely one century old, is it not fitting that the Palestinians recognize the national rights of a people over three thousand years old? This does not mean merely recognizing Israel as an unfortunate fact. Israel is a fact that even its worst enemies acknowledge. Neither Ahmadinejad nor Arafat were throwing stones at a myth. The recognition at issue – the recognition that can finally end this conflict – is the recognition that the Jews are a nation like any other, entitled to independence in their ancient homeland.
I respect Prime Minister Netanyahu. But I don’t always agree with him. I’m not sure he always agrees with himself. Political pressure probably causes him to take steps that he well understands are ill-advised from the perspective of making Israel’s case down the road. Yet timing aside, on this point – recognizing Israel as the Jewish State – he has no doubt cut to the core issue of the conflict. No wonder Netanyahu originally favored building Arab facts on the ground – Palestinian institutions and prosperity – before jumping into such final-status issues. The Palestinians do not yet seem ready for the deeper recognition and reconciliation that true peace implies and demands.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel and author of a new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity. You can follow David on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.