Last week, Jamie Weinstein of the conservative Daily Caller, who I tangoed with over the motivations behind 9/11, wrote a scandalous piece entitled, “Palestinian ambassador reiterates call for a Jew-free Palestinian state.” The ambassador in question was Maen Rashid Areikat. At a press conference he responded to Weinstein who asked whether he imagined that Jews could have a political role in a future Palestinian state. In the context of the upcoming bid for statehood based on the 1967 borders, Areikat said the following:
“Well, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future,” he said when asked by The Daily Caller if he could imagine a Jew being elected mayor of the Palestinian city of Ramallah in a future independent Palestinian state. “But after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.”
Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy followed up in an important post in which Areikat is quoted as saying the headline was a”total fabrication”:
The Daily Caller headlined the story, “Palestinian ambassador reiterates call for a Jew-free Palestinian state,” and a similar story in USA Today was entitled, “PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews.” The comments also evoked condemnations from top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who accused the Palestinian Authority of adopting a Judenrein policy, referring to the Nazi drive to cleanse Germany of any Jews.
“It’s not a misquotation or out of context, it’s a total fabrication,” Areikat said in an interview today. “I never mentioned the word ‘Jews,’ I never said that Palestine has to be free of Jews.”
Areikat said that he stands by his call for “separation,” but that he intended to refer to the separation of the Israel and Palestinian peoples, not the members of the two religions. Areikat also said that the idea of “separation” is an Israeli idea and that Israeli officials including Defense Minister Ehud Barak have endorsed it.
“Israeli people includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze… When I say the Israeli people, I mean everybody. This is not a religious conflict, this is not against Jews. We want to be a secular state,” Areikat said.
A fair explanation. And in fact, Palestinian officials have come out publicly to address this, confirming that a Palestinian state would be secular and welcome to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.
Palestinian officials are rolling out the welcome mat for Jews to come to a new Palestinian state.
…“The future Palestinian state will be open to all its citizens, regardless of their religion,” Habbash said, according to USA Today. “We want a civil state, which in it live all the faiths, Muslim, Christian and Jews also if they agree, (and) accept to be Palestinian citizens.”
“It was a set-up to try to say something on my behalf I didn’t even say I did not mention the word Jews in my answer. I did not allude to that at all,” Areikat said. “We have never said this is a religious conflict.”
And no, this is not a media maneuver to counter the nasty headline claiming Palestinians won’t accept Jews in Palestine. This is an old position, as a 2009 Haaretz interview with “key Fatah figure Ahmed Qureia” who headed the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel, headlined “PA: Settlers can become Palestinian citizens” reveals. Palestinian officials would welcome Jews in Palestine.
Do you believe Israel would agree to evacuate Ma’aleh Adumim’s 35,000 residents?
Qureia: “[Former U.S. secretary of state] Condoleezza Rice told me she understood our position about Ariel but that Ma’aleh Adumim was a different matter. I told her, and Livni, that those residents of Ma’aleh Adumim or Ariel who would rather stay in their homes could live under Palestinian rule and law, just like the Israeli Arabs who live among you. They could hold Palestinian and Israeli nationalities. If they want it – welcome.
It’s clear if you read the entire interview, that Palestinian negotiators might accept Jewish settlements, although illegal under international law, along the border with Israel into a Palestinian state (although illegal settlements deep within the West Bank, like Ariel, could pose problems). Contiguity – along the internationally recognized border – is what’s important for them in terms of territory.
Either way, it seems fair to say that the initial Daily Caller piece was irresponsible at best. It has long been one of the primary rhetorical slights against a Palestinian state that they would insist upon 100% Arab Muslims as citizens and would somehow discriminate against Jews. Weinstein’s piece added to that myth. It is clearly not the case. And surely not the last falsity we’ll hear from those who wish to deny Palestinians a state of their own.
Contrast this with the incessant demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” with the latest of these demands as recent as this past weekend. Yes, Arabs live in Israel, in some cases quite comfortably. In other cases, not so. Recently, moves have been made that put treatment of Israeli Arabs in serious question. The intent of the Israeli state for these Israeli Arabs can be quibbled about. The position of the Palestinian leadership regarding ethnic and religious diversity, apparently, cannot.