Last December, shortly before the wording of the road map that has now been published was finalized, I spoke with an American who was one of the architects of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under President Clinton. I asked him: “How is it that in the entire course of the negotiations with the Palestinians, before Camp David, while it was underway and in its wake, no demand was made that the Palestinians recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state? Why is it always, including in the Oslo statement, that only the State of Israel’s right to exist is declared, without citing that it is the national state of the Jewish people?”

“To tell you the truth?” he replied, “It was clear both to me and to President Clinton that when we said the State of Israel the intention was the Jewish state. But, at a certain and very late stage, the Israelis asked us to underscore that point. We turned to the Palestinian leadership and were met with adamant refusal. We dropped the subject, and I regret that. The Bush administration is keenly aware of that point.” Indeed on November 19, 2001 at the University of Kentucky, Powell outlined American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and said, among other things: The Palestinians have to remove any doubt, once and for all, that they accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel of the Jewish state.”

In my opinion, that is the core of the conflict between us and the Arab world and the Palestinians. The slogan, “two states for two peoples” has long since ceased to express the legitimacy of a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state. The state has been under attack for some time now, mainly by Israeli Arabs, which strives to define the state as either a “state of all its citizens” or a “bi-national state.” Just not a Jewish state. It is astonishing to see that not a single Israeli leader, to the best of my recollection, has firmly demanded Palestinian recognition of the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. It was an American official who had to set that demand, and it is Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, who has to reiterate and underscore that Israel has a right to exist in security and peace as a Jewish state.

But the “vision” of the road map does not refer to a Jewish state. The road map determines: immediately after its implementation the Palestinian leadership will make a unequivocal statement that reiterates Israel’s right to peace and security. The Israeli leadership will issue an unequivocal statement confirming its commitment to a vision of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state that lives alongside Israel in peace and security. In my opinion I must insist that the two statements include the legitimacy of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

One can show flexibility and compromise in a variety of fields and, in the more distant future, make “very painful concessions,” just not on that principle. After all, our entire demand that the Palestinians concede the refugees’ “right of return” into the State of Israel stems from that principle (because a Jewish state means first of all a state with a solid Jewish majority). So why not declare that principle vociferously and set it as a condition against the Palestinians’ profound demand for a Palestinian state, which Abu Mazen would like to see clean of Jews.

This article ran in Maariv on May 5, 2003