Beyond Images Challenging Myths and Presenting Facts About Israel
Saeb Erekat: the concept of a ‘Jewish State’ should be “left to be negotiated

London - published on 8 May 2004
Beyond Images Ref: 90

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In a prominent newspaper article, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat implies that the concept of a ‘Jewish state’ ought to be “left to be negotiated” between the parties. This view is inconsistent with his professed support for a ‘two-state solution’, and reveals the ideological extremism of so-called Palestinian “moderates”.

President Bush and Israel’s Disengagement Plan

On April 14 2004, President Bush expressed his support for Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan. The President stated that as part of a long-term peace agreement, Palestinian refugees should enjoy a ‘right of return’, but only to a future Palestinian state, and not to Israel itself. This statement provoked an outcry from Palestinian and Arab leaders, and from many politicians and commentators elsewhere.

Saeb Erekat in the Washington Post condemns the USA and Israel

Saeb Erekat, chief PLO negotiator and well-known Palestinian spokesman, attacked US and Israeli policy fiercely in an article in the Washington Post (25 April 2004). In relation to the Palestinian ‘right of return’ he wrote:

“It is mind-boggling that a president who supports equality and non-discrimination would dismiss the rights of Christian and Muslim refugees to return to their homes in the “Jewish state” [Erekat’s inverted commas] – a term often repeated but never defined or even left to the parties to negotiate” [our underlining].

The Jewish State As A Negotiable Concept

Saeb Erekat is in effect saying that it is racist not to agree to Palestinians settling in Israel, and “mind-boggling” for a US president to support Israel’s position on this. He implies that because the concept of the “Jewish State” is used to justify preventing the Palestinian return, that concept ought to be “negotiated”, and presumably diluted in some way.

Our Conclusions: The Right of Return as an Extreme, Rejectionist Demand

Elsewhere in his article, Erekat describes himself as a “moderate”, and claims to be in favour of a “two-state solution” and “reconciliation”. The problem is that his views are contradictory. In the same breath he demands an open-ended ‘right of return’ for Palestinians into Israel, and questions the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, yet describes himself as “moderate”.

The “right of return” is always presented by Palestinian spokespeople in moderate, humanitarian terms. But it conceals an intolerant and rejectionist agenda, namely the undermining of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.

Erekat’s comments reveal the ideological extremism of so-called Palestinian moderates. And they demonstrate the core of the conflict: that the Palestinian movement has simply not come to terms with the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. Nor have the Palestinians made the historic compromises needed to achieve coexistence with Israel.

Related Beyond Images resources

Briefing 6: Recognising Israel’s Right to Exist

Briefing 39: The Palestinians’ Leading Cartoonist: “I Believe Israel Should Not Exist”

Briefing 70: The Curse of 1948: Yasser Arafat’s Language of Coexistence

Briefing 34: The Palestinian Right of Return