Much of the commentary early this month commemorating the death of Shimon Peres and his long search for peace failed to capture what that search entailed. Peres was typically portrayed as divided between his early days as a security hawk and, later, as a peace dove.
In fact, Peres understood that security and peace cannot be separated, but go together, forming a whole. Equally important, but almost always overlooked, this understanding is fundamental to the international community’s official pronouncement about the conditions for achieving peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Since 1967, the “land for peace” formula of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the bedrock of all Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts, is premised on Israel being required to cede land acquired in its self-defence war of 1967 only if Arab states provide peace to Israel. But “peace” is not abstract; it’s laid out in specific, security-laden terms: the Arabs (including, since the Oslo process of 1993, the Palestinians) must terminate “all claims or states of belligerence” and allow Israel its “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Israel and Egypt signed their 1979 peace agreement on just that basis. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt only when Egypt agreed to demilitarize the Peninsula and guarantee that the Gulf of Aqaba would remain open to Israeli ships.
In short, there can be no genuine peace without strict security guarantees, in addition to recognition.
Regarding recognition, it is often said that, as part of the Oslo process – one set quietly in motion by Peres – the Palestinians and Israelis agreed to “mutual recognition.” That isn’t quite right either. And what makes it not quite right turns out to be the major stumbling block in the peace process with the Palestinians.
In the 1993 exchange of letters between then-PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Arafat agreed to recognize “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” and Rabin recognized the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people.”
That might seem like mutual recognition, but, while Israel recognized the Palestinian people, the Palestinians recognized the Israeli state, not Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
That’s important for two reasons. First, let’s recall that before Israel became a state, the United Nations, in its 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine, recommended division into “Jewish” and “Arab” states – two states for two peoples. Israel was founded on that basis, with full democratic rights for its Arab minority – hence Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state.
Nevertheless, to this day, the Palestinians refuse to accept the Jewish nature of the state. Were they to do so, they’d have to give up what they purport – without justification in international law, and in violation of 242’s requirement that peace entail the “termination of all claims” – is their “right of return” to Israel, the state they claim to recognize, except that they’d eventually turn it into an Arab-majority state.
At the beginning of October, the Globe’s Patrick Martin wrote that Peres told “Israeli television” that, in his secret negotiations (in 2011) with Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, Abbas committed to recognize Israel as the “Jewish state.” There’s been no confirmation of that, but there have been repeated public denials by Abbas that he’d ever recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians keep insisting that Jews are defined only by religion, not by their nationhood.
When Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer for Palestinian statehood during the Annapolis talks, the Economist magazine (not known for sympathies to Israel) observed that, while a majority of Israelis had long ago accepted the Palestinians as a people with national rights, the Palestinians had not accepted the same about the Jews of Israel.
Only when genuine mutual recognition is achieved will Peres’ vision of peace be possible.
Paul Michaels is CIJA’s research director