Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews

There's been a lot of depressing and discouraging news lately in the US - awful flooding just south of where I live in Ithaca (the flooding of Binghamton, Owego, and Candor by the Susquehanna River as a result of the torrential rains brought by hurricane Lee, leaving devastation behind), the horrible state of the American economy, the fear that the European economy is about to take a dive which will bring us down with it, Obama's decreasing popularity and the grim possibility of a Republican president being elected in 2012, not to mention the depressing news coming out of the Middle East - the storming of the Israeli embassy by a mob in Cairo, Turkey's prime minister Erdogan doing his best to stir up further hostility to Israel by threatening to escort any future flotilla to Gaza with Turkish warships, his expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Turkey, and now this disgusting statement: PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews.
The Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.

"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.

Such a state would be the first to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which sought a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews, said Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. National Security Council official.

Israel has 1.3 million Muslims who are Israeli citizens. Jews have lived in "Judea and Samaria," the biblical name for the West Bank, for thousands of years. Areikat said the PLO seeks a secular state, but that Palestinians need separation to work on their own national identity.

The Palestinian demand is unacceptable and "a despicable form of anti-Semitism," Abrams said. A small Jewish presence in a future Palestine, up to 1% of the population, would not hurt the Palestinian identity, he said. "No civilized country would act this way," Abrams said.

Israel has often complained of anti-Semitic views in Palestinian discourse. Palestinian media frequently publishes and broadcasts anti-Semitic sermons by Islamic religious leaders, while the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV shows programming for preschoolers that extolls hatred of Jews and suicide bombings, according to a 2009 State Department human rights report.

The PLO seeks a U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood when the U.N. General Assembly meets in New York City next week. Areikat said Palestinian negotiators have been stymied in peace talks with the Israelis because of the two sides' unequal status before international legal institutions such as the U.N. and the International Criminal Court, where Israel is a full member and the Palestinians are not. The Palestinians hope the increased pressure will push the Jewish state to agree to their demands.

"We are trying to preserve the concept of a two-state solution," Areikat said. "And to make the Israelis understand there will be consequences for their actions."

The Obama administration has promised to veto the statehood bid if it reaches the U.N. Security Council. "This shortcut is not going to create a Palestinian state," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said. "We continue to urge them and convince them that would be self-defeating."
I have supported the two-state solution since the late 1980s, when I first understood that in fact, there was a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. I heard Faisal Husseini (former PLO leader in Jerusalem, son of a distinguished Palestinian nationalist family) speak in 1988 and say that it was time for both peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to give up on their dream of possessing all of Palestine, and dispossessing the other.

I oppose racism both in the United States and in Israel, in my own small way - in Israel I believe that non-Jewish citizens should be treated equally before the law in all ways (which they are not), and I consider it a betrayal of the principles of the Israeli declaration of independence that Arab citizens are not treated equally. I feel the same way in the United States about our shameful history of slavery, Jim Crow, and continued discrimination against people of color.

What, then, should my response be when the PLO ambassador to the UN says that the future Palestinian state should be empty of Jews, even of Jews who agree to live peacefully under Palestinian rule? This is racism, pure and simple. I understand that a Palestinian state would not want to contain people who are actively fighting against it, which would be true of some of the settlers who live in areas that would come under Palestinian sovereignty - but that is far different from categorically stating that no Jews could live in a state of Palestine. Imagine the worldwide protest if Israeli prime minister Netanyahu had just announced that no non-Jews would henceforth be allowed to live in the state of Israel.

The ambassador's statement also highlights the utter hypocrisy of official Palestinian statements that they will not recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Israel is supposed to recognize a Palestine where no Jews can live, yet to refrain from declaring its own national identity?

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