Arafat and the Jewish State: Setting the Record Straight

(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Alan Baker - On March 13, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that he views Israel's principled requirement of recognition as the nation state of the Jewish People "as a mistake." He added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "confirmed that he agreed it [Israel] would be a Jewish state" in 1988 and in 2004. However, the truth is just the opposite: the U.S. administration at the time did not believe that Arafat's words satisfied their goal of his recognizing Israel's right to exist. Moreover, Arafat's 1988 statement does not come close to meeting the requirement for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People. In the last quarter of 1988, an intense effort was undertaken to facilitate the opening of a diplomatic dialogue between the PLO and the U.S. Previously, all U.S. administrations had strictly adhered to U.S. commitments, originally given by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that required the PLO to recognize Israel, accept UN Security Council Resolution 242, and renounce terrorism as prerequisites for any dialogue between the parties. Arafat did not issue a clear declaration recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, but only summarized the language of UN General Assembly Resolution 181. The U.S. government concluded that Arafat's statement did not meet Washington's demand that the PLO unequivocally recognize the State of Israel, and thus no dialogue was launched between the U.S. and the PLO at that time. It was, in fact, current Israeli peace negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni who insisted that "declared references must be made to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state" in Israel's official response to the 30 April 2003 U.S. and Quartet-sponsored "Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Amb. Alan Baker, former legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. He is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

2014-03-17 00:00:00

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