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Video: Arafat Recognizes Israel as a Jewish State

Newly rediscovered footage upends Palestinian negotiating position

Yair Rosenberg
March 13, 2014

One of the key points of contention in the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is whether the Palestinians will agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This Israeli claim, which originated on the Israeli left at the height of the Second Intifada and has been part of the negotiations ever since, has been a major sticking point for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has thus far categorically rejected it.

But newly-rediscovered footage of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may upend his successor’s argument that Israel’s demand is an unprecedented one that no Palestinian leader could accept. In the video, apparently of a 1988 press conference in Sweden, Arafat clearly states–in English–that “the PNC [Palestinian National Council] had accepted two states, a Palestine state and Jewish state–between brackets ‘Israel.’” Watch it below:

Last month, senior Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit recounted how Arafat had recognized Israel’s Jewish character in a 2004 interview, calling it “The Arafat Precedent.” Some commentators disputed Shavit’s account, however, arguing Arafat was only offering a de facto acknowledgment of the facts on the ground–Israel’s Jewishness–not an actual affirmation. But this new footage of Arafat doing exactly that appears to vindicate Shavit’s rendering of Arafat’s view, and suggests that it is far from unprecedented for a Palestinian leader to accept Israel’s Jewish nature as part of a peace agreement.

Whether Abbas will use this new evidence as cover for a compromise remains to be seen.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.