‘Moderate Palestinian leaders believe in a two-state solution…..’

Published: 25 December 2008
Briefing Number 227

Click to Printclick here to print page

Summary:British Foreign Minister David Miliband recently stated that ‘moderate Palestinian leaders believe in a two-state solution'. This belief is widely held by politicians and commentators. The purpose of this Briefing is to challenge this belief. Many moderate Palestinian leaders in the Fatah movement do indeed pay lip-service to a two-state solution, but they have not yet internalised the idea in Palestinian politics or culture. Indeed, as we show below, Palestinian ‘moderates' hold views which are inconsistent with it:-

•  they refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state;

•  they do not publicly relinquish the ‘right of return' into Israel ;

•  they refuse to consider territorial adjustments to the pre-1967 ‘green line', which would make a two-state solution into a practical possibility;

•  they tolerate intense Palestinian incitement against Israel ; and

•  they negate the historic connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem .

Most politicians and commentators around the world proclaim their support for a two-state solution. They largely focus on condemning Israeli settlements and calling on the Palestinians to curb physical violence, but they almost completely disregard the package of ideas which Palestinian moderates hold, which are in fact incompatible with a two-state solution. As long as third parties continue to take this approach, they in fact make a ‘two-state solution' less likely, because they fail to press for the changes of attitude would could bring it about. As a result, advocacy by third parties of a ‘two-state solution' is no longer a policy at all. It's little more than a set of hollow slogans.

‘Moderate Palestinian leaders believe in a two-state solution….”

These were the words of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, speaking at a Jewish community lunch, in London in October 2008.

It's a view repeated constantly by diplomats and politicians who are involved in efforts to build a two-state solution. But the problem is, it's misconceived.

Moderate Palestinian leaders adhere to a package of ideas which are incompatible with a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. It is widely assumed that it is only Hamas which promotes rejection of Israel . But rejectionist ideas – rarely explicit in front of the Western TV interviewer - are embedded in mainstream Palestinian thinking too.

The purpose of this Briefing is to explain what these ideas are, and thus show that the assumption of David Miliband and many others is misplaced.

•  ‘Moderate' Palestinian leaders refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state: The leaders of the moderate wing of the Palestinians refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. “We will not recognise Israel as a Jewish state…..” (Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO Negotiations Department,, quoted by the Palestine Media Centre, 1 December 2007 ). “The Palestinians will never recognise Israel 's Jewish identity….” (Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Prime Minister, and a leading ‘moderate', stated in an interview with satellite station Al-Arabiya, 15 November 2007 ). In the last year Palestinian President and leader of Fatah Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Ahmed Qurei and Yasser Abed Rabbo – other leading figures in the ‘moderate' Palestinian wing - have also restated this refusal (see Beyond Images Briefing 226, where we describe their views in detail). Moderate Palestinians demand national self-determination for the Palestinian people. But they refuse to recognise national self-determination for the Jewish people. This attitude contradicts ‘mutual recognition' between two peoples, undermines a two-state solution, and assures the future collapse of any coexistence deal.

•  ‘Moderate' Palestinian leaders do not publicly relinquish the ‘right of return' of Palestinians into Israel : For over 60 years, Arab states and the Palestinian national movement have demanded a ‘right of return' of Palestinian refugees into Israel . They claim the number of refugees to be over 4 million. Rather than expressing the claim in this absolute way, they currently base it on UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1950, to make it sound more internationally acceptable. But this amounts to the same thing – any Palestinian refugee wishing to return and to ‘live in peace', would be entitled to do so. This claim of a ‘right of return' is incompatible with a two-state solution (see Beyond Images Briefing 34). But moderate Palestinian leaders never publicly relinquish the claim, and they never educate the Palestinian people to accept that they will only be able to ‘return' to a future Palestinian state, not to the territory of Israel after a peace agreement. The centrality of the right of return idea in Palestinian political culture makes a two-state solution impossible. Once again, the ‘moderates' pay lip-service to the two-state solution, but take no steps to prepare the Palestinian people for such a solution.

•  ‘Moderate' Palestinian leaders refuse to accept the possibility of any territorial adjustment to the pre-1967 ‘green line': Moderate Palestinian leaders refuse to accept the possibility of any territorial adjustments at all to the 1967 ceasefire lines – the ‘green line'. They argue for the evacuation of all Israeli settlements and for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines. Thus, in August 2008, the moderate Palestinian leadership rejected Israel 's proposals to pull out of 93% of the West Bank, combined with an offer by Israel of 7% more land in a land swap (see Beyond Images Briefing 225 for details). Under that offer, Israel would retain 7% of the West Bank comprising the major settlement blocs. But moderate Palestinian leaders have now stated that they cannot accept the idea of any Jews living in the territories at all. In the words of lead Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei, they demand that Jews withdraw from “the last centimetre” of the West Bank (as reported in the Jerusalem Post, 13 December 2008 ). They only advocate one type of two-state solution: a solution totally on their terms, which ignores UN Resolution 242 and the need for negotiated territorial compromise. Moderate Palestinian attitudes once again block the realisation of a two-state solution.

•  ‘Moderate' Palestinian leaders tolerate widespread incitement against Israel in Palestinian society and culture : Incitement against Israel remains rife in mainstream Palestinian media controlled by Fatah and by the Palestinian Authority. Much of this incitement has anti-semitic overtones. This incitement is reinforced by mosque sermons, and childrens' education curricula, much of which is inflammatory. During a recent visit to Palestinian communities in the West Bank, international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler expressed despair over the broadcast of a documentary on Palestinian TV falsely claiming that Israel carries out Nazi-like experiments on Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons (see www.thesuburban.com , 1 September 2008). Israel is routinely portrayed as a colonial, criminal state imposed unjustly on the Palestinians: its creation is described as a catastrophe (‘naqba'). Suicide bombers continue to be honoured as ‘martyrs'. Meanwhile, Israeli people, and their leaders, are embodiments of evil. This vilification is incompatible with a two-state solution. When last did a Palestinian preacher speak about Jewish national rights, or the quality of care which Arabs receive in an Israeli hospital? The Palestinians cannot build a Palestinian state and a two-state solution by demonising the Jewish state. But, once again, most third parties either downplay or ignore the whole question of incitement.

•  Moderate Palestinian leaders routinely negate the historic connection of the Jewish people with Jerusalem : The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is over 3000 years old, yet its authenticity is still questioned. Palestinian media and leaders routinely undermine the connection through historic revisionism and via the efforts of the Arab bodies which administer the Temple Mount area in the Old City to destroy archaeological evidence supporting the Jews' connection. Recently Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, addressing a UN interfaith conference, described Jerusalem as being holy to two faiths – Christianity and Islam (see Jerusalem Post, 13 November 2008 ). Fayyad omitted to mention Judaism. And lead Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei recently claimed that the Jewish temples in Jerusalem never existed. “The Temple Mount is 100% Muslim…”. The comments were made in a small media briefing for a Palestinian media outlet, and the Arab affairs correspondent of an Israeli national newspaper, and were reported by World Net Daily ( www.worldnetdaily.com , on 7 November 2008 ). Such views are completely at odds with a two-state solution. They demonstrate a complete denial of the Jewish peoples' history and fundamental rights.

Conclusions and key messages: ‘Moderate' Palestinians enjoy huge diplomatic attention. They receive a very large amount of international financial support, and major donor conferences are devoted to helping them build a state. The ‘moderate' Palestinian leadership are being assisted by the USA , Israel , the Quartet and the European Union in building security structures in the West Bank . And their argument that Israeli settlements are the major obstacle to a two-state solution receives a sympathetic audience in all international forums.

Yet, at the very same moment, the package of ideas outlined in this Briefing, held by these moderate leaders, is almost completely ignored by the international community.

As long as third parties continue to take this approach, they in fact make a ‘two-state solution' less likely, because they fail to press for the changes of attitude by the Palestinians which are needed to end the conflict. Nor do they link continued financial support to such changes, for example the curbing of incitement on Palestinian Authority-controlled media.

As a result of this approach, advocacy by third parties of a ‘two-state solution' is no longer an effective policy. It is little more than a set of hollow slogans.

Related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 226 – Recognising Israel as a Jewish state: mainstream Palestinian leaders refuse to do so

Briefing 225 – 2008: Israel offers to pull out of 93% of the West Bank , plus 7% more land: Palestinians say no

Briefing 142 – Negating Israel 's existence: Palestinians demand a ‘full right of return'

Briefing 64 - The demonisation of Israel

Briefing 6 – Recognising Israel 's right to exist: actions speak louder than words