Chris Keeler, at Notes from a Medinah, writes about the Israeli demand that Palestinian negotiators offer to recognize Israel as a Jewish state:
There is a distinct and important difference between recognizing Israel as a home for the Jewish people and recognizing Israel as a legitimate state, welcome in the UN and with the right to live in peace and security. Yasser Arafat offered as much in an open letter to then PM Yitzhak Rabin during the Olso Peace Accords. Recognition as a state for the Jewish people was absent in the Oslo accords and the peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. It was first introduced only in 2007 by Ehud Olmert and was rejected by both the Palestinians and then President George Bush as unreasonable. Netanyahu, however, has reintroduced the idea with a vengeance, creating more questions, in my mind, about whether he actually is open to a free and independent Palestinian state.
Netanyahu’s effort to introduce a new core issue to the peace process has been strongly criticized as a means to undermine the Palestinian people. Hussein Ibish said:
the language is unacceptable because it implies that Israel is not only a “Jewish state” because it has a Jewish ethnic majority and consequent self-definition, but that it “belongs” not to its citizens or its ethnic majority but rather to “the Jewish people” around the world and for all time. Netanyahu is asking Palestinians to accept that Jews (by Israel’s official definition of the term) around the world, no matter where they are and what, if any, connection they have to Israel or Palestine, enjoy political rights that are privileged and superior over any other group in a metaphysical, permanent and non-contingent manner.
Lamis Andoni, in Al Jazeera, remarked that “if Israel is a Jewish state, in the sense that Jews are the indigenous population, that means the West Bank is not an occupied territory and the Palestinians are there as an accident of history.” Clearly, the requirement of a foreign government to recognize Israel’s domestic characterization is more than simply a matter of rhetoric; it is a means of further disenfranchising non-Jews in Israel and forcing the Palestinian government to eliminate the Nakba, or the 1948 catastrophe from the Palestinian identity.
Justly, President Abbas has refused to accede to Netanyahu’s demands. Hamas has even called on Abbas to leave the direct negotiations with Israel over Netanyahu’s inflammatory requirements. Furthermore, Netanyahu must know that while Palestine recognizes Israel and recognizes its right to self-definition, it will never be forced to define Israel in this way. So is Netanyahu creating a demand that he knows will kill the slight chance of peace that currently exists? It certainly appears that way.
Today in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Yoram Meital describes Netanyahu as creating the means to destroy negotiations with Palestine. Meital underlines the Machiavellian nature of Netanyahu’s requisite for peace with Palestine. Not only does Meital describe how the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state undermines the connections that many Palestinians have with their homeland and the implications for non-Jewish Israeli citizens, but the author delves into the message Netanyahu sends regarding Jerusalem.
The Israeli Prime Minister has long-held his ground on the issue of Jerusalem, saying on numerous occasions that all of Jerusalem, including the occupied East Jerusalem that Palestine and the international community envision being the capital of a future Palestinian state. Although most of the international community view East Jerusalem as occupied territory, similar to Nablus and Ramallah, it seems as though Netanyahu is intent on keeping the sacred city in Israel proper. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, argues Meital, is yet another impediment to a peaceful transition of East Jerusalem to Palestinian control:
Is it conceivable that after demanding recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, Netanyahu would compromise about control over the compound within which Israel’s most sacred professions of faith are enclosed?
It is not difficult to see ulterior motives to the Israeli government’s need to impose a domestic decision on the Palestinians. Ultimately, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or as a state for Jewish people does not matter when placed in the international arena. The Palestinian authorities have openly recognized Israel’s right to exist and are actively looking for a way to create a viable state that can live in peace with its Israeli neighbor. Netanyahu, by imposing irrelevant demands on the Palestinians, is perhaps trying to create a better sense of security for Israeli citizens, but it is more likely that he is attempting to simply gain leverage on two critical issues: refugees and Jerusalem.