John Kerry’s peace initiative is hitting choppy waters. Earlier this week he told the Senate Foreign Relations committee that Israelis and Palestinians had never been so far apart during his nine months of negotiations. And what is the stumbling block? Israel’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry now says that the demand is a “mistake.” But he and Obama both accepted it when Benjamin Netanyahu stated it, and restated it.
Here is a wrapup of recent reports on the demand, emphasizing the degree to which American media parrot the Israeli demand even as Haaretz expresses opposition to it.
First, the Jerusalem Post‘s quotation of Kerry’s comment to Congress on the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state:
“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state, and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry told the House Foreign Relations Committee, in a hearing on budget matters.
Yesterday, Kerry told a Senate panel that Israel and the Palestinians had less trust in one another than at any point in over nine months of negotiations.
“‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181 where there are more than 40– 30 mentions of ‘Jewish state,'” Kerry continued. “In addition, chairman Arafat in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state. And there are any other number of mentions.”
Here is Haaretz’s strong editorial against the demand. Note that Haaretz calls out the “Jewish lobby” in the U.S. for supporting Netanyahu over Kerry and says that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cannot accept the demand:
The time has come for people in Israel and the Jewish lobby in the United States – which blindly supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians publicly recognize Israel as the Jewish state as a condition for a peace agreement – to internalize U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s conclusion: “I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace.”…
Chemi Shalev in Haaretz says that Netanyahu and the lobby played the American leaders, and Kerry is now trying to save his framework by pressuring Netanyahu:
Kerry knows, or should know, that he may be trying to bolt the barn doors after the horses have fled. It was the Americans, from President Obama on down, who almost nonchalantly adopted the demand for recognition and allowed it to become a peace process mantra and a new rallying cry for Israeli supporters in Congress, in the American Jewish establishment and in both Israeli and American public opinions. But after committee members repeatedly badgered him about it, Kerry exposed his belated awareness that this supposedly marginal issue was a ticking time bomb threatening to derail his entire diplomatic initiative…
But the molehill slowly turned into a mountain, and Kerry pointed his finger at the party he deems responsible. … The more that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amps up the volume on his demand for recognition, the Americans believe, the more he makes it harder for Abbas to accept it. The more that Israel describes recognition as the lynchpin of the entire process, the more it becomes a symbol of capitulation and humiliation for the other side, one that even braver leaders than Abbas would hesitate to accept.
“Yes, the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state means that they accept the falsity of Palestinian narrative of Israel’s establishment,” one Jewish leader said in a closed forum in New York this week, and the Palestinians tend to agree.
Ilene Cohen writes in an email that the US walked right into this.
The Palestinians were right to stand their ground on this latest outrageous stumbling block thrown out by Netanyahu.
The Israelis are good at laying traps, and, alas, the US is good at getting caught in them…
To his credit on one issue at least, Obama did not let Netanyahu lure him into an Iran red line.
But his administration was trapped by Netanyahu’s Jewish state red line. I would remind the president and the secretary of state that if you draw a red line that turns out to be a big mistake, it’s better to suffer a little humiliation than to stand by the mistake and go down the rabbit hole.
The Jewish state business as a “condition” for an agreement was always B.S. (sorry about that, but it’s the most polite way I could put it), and shame on the US for falling for it. Indeed, when is the US going to acknowledge that there are no terms for peace that are acceptable to Netanyahu?
Now let’s turn to the docility of the American press. The New York Times did a piece in January characterizing the demand as a legitimate one, with scarcely a suggestion of Ilene Cohen’s understanding, that Netanyahu was using it to kibosh a Palestinians state.
Without acceptance by the Palestinians that their neighbor is and will be, in Israel’s favored formulation, “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Israelis argue that they can never be convinced that an agreement truly spells the end of the conflict.
The other day National Public Radio echoed this talk of the Jewish people, when it quoted Ari Shavit on the justice of the Jewish state recognition demand:
Shavit: I’ll tell you why I think it’s is a just demand. The real conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is based on mutual blinders. We did not see they should have a state of their own. And they did not see that we should have a state of our own. So if Israel does recognize now the Palestinian people, its legitimate rights and the right of the Palestinians to have a Palestinian state, I do not see any reason why the Palestinian would not recognize the Jewish people, its legitimate rights and its right to have a Jewish state.
SIEGEL: One objection Palestinians raise is that Israel has made peace with Egypt and with Jordan, and they didn’t require the Egyptians or the Jordanians to acknowledge that Israel was the nation state of the Jews. Why must the Palestinians do so?
SHAVIT: Exactly because this is a unique bitter, deep conflict; much deeper than the conflict between Israelis and other Arab nations states. We are tragic twins. We share a land and this is why this piece is so difficult to reach. And that’s why it needs a deep emotional, moral and ideological level. It’s not like a formal peace, a strategic peace between countries that just draw a line.
Haaretz’s editorial answers Shavit. You are asking Palestinians to accept the Nakba as a just historical outcome:
Netanyahu’s insistence on the declaration is designed to push Abbas into an impossible position, making him turn his back on the Palestinians who live within Israel. Without entering into the history of the conflict and the question of who is more responsible for the Palestinians’ fate, Netanyahu and the right are simply ignoring the fact that the State of Israel was created on the ruins of 400 Palestinian villages and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Abbas cannot state publicly what Netanyahu is asking of him.
Back to the New York Times. Today Ethan Bronner carries more water for the demand in a piece on Israeli leaders reaching out to American Jews for advice on how Israel can stay “Jewish and democratic.” And what do those Jews say?
The American Jews who gathered to discuss Israel overwhelmingly felt that the Palestinians should be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Bronner’s piece says that the gatherings were arranged by the Jewish People Policy Institute–a Jerusalem thinktank that promotes the idea of a Jewish people with national rights. The Jews they are polling are surely part of the American Jewish lobby, in the words of Haaretz.