Narrative Change Language

By Jerome M. Segal
Revised April 7, 2015

Proposed Language:

“The PLO and Israel both affirm that the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is the common homeland of both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. Both parties further affirm the necessity of dividing the common homeland into two independent states, Israel and Palestine.”

Advantages For Israel:

The central value judgment of the classic Palestinian narrative’s is the denial that the Jewish people have a right to a state of their own. This conclusion rests upon the claim that the Jewish people do not have a right of self-determination, which is turn is based on a fundamental building block: There is no Jewish people.

Thus the PLO Covenant states:

Article 20:

“The claim of an historical or spiritual tie between Jews and Palestine does not tally with historical realities nor with the constituents of statehood in their true sense. Judaism, in its character as a religion of revelation, is not a nationality with an independent existence. Likewise the Jews are not one people with an independent personality. Rather they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”

In addition to denying that there is a Jewish people, this Article also denies the Jewish historical presence in Palestine:

“Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history.”

The language proposed above focuses on the underlying structure of the narrative and provide three changes:

– It contains recognition of the existence of a Jewish people.

– It contains recognition of the existence of an historical connection of the Jewish people to Palestine; specifically that this land is the homeland of the Jewish people.

– It contains recognition that the homeland of the Jewish people is not just Israel proper, but the land between the River and the Sea.
For some Israelis, because this language challenges the core elements of the narrative, it may be more powerful than language that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state — a step that is more of a capitulation than a change in the underlying narrative.

Acceptability to Palestinians:

Despite the power of this proposed language, it will be easier for the Palestinians to accept than language which directly deals with Jewish state, or nation state of the Jewish people. I say this for six reasons:

1. This new language has not been demanded by the Israeli government. Once put as a public Israeli demand, Palestinian responsiveness is more difficult to obtain.

2. The new language would be affirmed by both Israel and the PLO, and would recognize that the land is also the Palestinian homeland.

3. The language does not lend itself to future attacks on the rights of the Palestinian citizens in Israel; rather, it affirms that even living in Israel, they are living in their homeland.

4. The language does not put President Abbas in the position of “traitor” who betrayed the refugees.

5. The language does not put Abbas in the position of appearing to say that the Palestinians were wrong to oppose Zionism.

6. The assertions that the Jews are a people and that their homeland is in historic Palestine, are essentially matters of fact, that are well supported by reams of empirical evidence. The alternatives dealing with recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people (e.g. belongs to the Jewish people) are essentially value judgments and thus far more difficult for the Palestinians to affirm.

Jerome M. Segal directs the International Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland’s Department of Philosophy.

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