(September 26, 2016 / JNS) WASHINGTON, D.C. – Palestinian Authority officials have been using a deceptive version of the “two states for two peoples” motto when they speak to different audiences, according to a leading Israeli scholar.
Eytan Gilboa, professor of international communications at Bar-Ilan University and former consultant to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made the charge in his remarks at the 2016 National Israeli-American Conference held in Washington, D.C. this weekend.
More than 2,000 Israeli-Americans from around the country attended the conference. Gilboa’s panel, which attracted a standing-room only audience of about 150, also included Ron Prossor, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Mideast envoy, Koby Huberman, co-founder of Israel Peace Initiative, and Dana Weiss of Israel’s Channel 2 news network.
Gilboa said that PA officials who speak of “two states for two peoples” when addressing Western audiences, leave out the words “for two peoples” when speaking in Arabic to a different audience. “That’s because they do not accept the idea that the Jews are a national people with a right to national self-determination,” Gilboa said. “They still do not recognize the right of Israel to exist as a permanent Jewish state.”
This Palestinian rejectionism, Gilboa said, is reinforced by “the PA’s official maps, which still do not show Israel, and the textbooks they use in their schools, which do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
Prossor was only slightly more optimistic than Gilboa about the chances for peace. Prossor said that while Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, or Moroccan officials sometimes seem to take a more positive attitude towards Israel than in the past, “the problem I discovered during my years at the U.N. was that the officials who were willing to go on the record with such comments were the ones who had the least influence within their governments.”
What’s unclear is whether unofficial expressions by moderate Arabs could turn into practical steps to advance a comprehensive regional peace with Israel, Prossor said. While doing a spot-on imitation of the voice of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, Prossor said that Peres “probably would say something like, ‘We need solutions, not resolutions.’”
The cautious perspective offered by Gilboa and Prossor at the conference contrasted sharply with Ross, who said he believes there is “a new reality, a new landscape” in the Middle East. He urged the next U.S. president to undertake a behind-the-scenes diplomatic initiative there.
Ross said that Israel should announce that “there won’t be any Israeli sovereignty east of the security barrier,” a position which went further than his recent calls for Israel to halt all housing construction east of the barrier. Ross’s new position would mean that Israel would retreat to approximately the pre-1967 armistice lines.
While Ross cited Egypt’s current cooperation with Israel as evidence that a regional peace might be possible, Prossor and Gilboa sounded a cautionary note regarding Israel’s relations with Egypt. “We have had peace with Egypt since 1979, and no territorial conflict with them, yet Egypt’s media and school textbooks are still very anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish,” said Prossor, who is also the former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “This shows what a big challenge we still face–there may be a chance for broader peace, but we have a long way to go.”
Gilboa said between Israel and Egypt there “is a peace only at the leadership level–it is not a warm peace, a peace between ordinary people.” Gilboa pointed out that the Egyptian government “has for so many years been educating the Egyptian people to hate Israel, it will take many, many years to reverse that problem.”