Netanyahu’s Destructive Demand

(Source: Haaretz)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a major speech the other day at Bar Ilan University. Most of it was saber rattling at Iran, but enough of it was about the Palestinians to steel my belief that negotiating with Netanyahu is a waste of time and that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative is a charade.

 

Netanyahu’s Israel “as a Jewish state” mantra was invented to preclude an agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s formulation destroys any chance for peace.

 

The centerpiece of his discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was this: his demand that Palestinians recognize Israel “as a Jewish state.” He said:

“This is the nation state of the Jewish people … Recognize the Jewish state. As long as you refuse to do so, there will never be peace. Recognize our right to live here in our own sovereign state, our nation-state—only then will peace be possible. I emphasize this here—this is an essential condition.”

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

– See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.j3SYwG7h.dpuf

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

– See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.j3SYwG7h.dpuf

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

– See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.j3SYwG7h.dpuf

It’s a new demand, one that only became Israeli policy when Netanyahu came to office. Every prime minister prior to Netanyahu only demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel. But then, on September 9, 1993, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat sent this statement to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (in exchange for Rabin’s recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people). This agreement stands to this day and is recognized as binding by both sides.

The PLO recognizes the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself to the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues related to final status will be resolved through negotiations.

This commitment—encompassing Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s three long-standing conditions—led to Rabin’s agreement to begin negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, then leader of the Likud opposition, vehemently opposed Rabin’s acceptance of Arafat’s concessions and began a campaign of incitement against him. Netanyahu understood then, as he does now, that Palestinian recognition of Israel meant the largest obstacle to a land-for-peace agreement was gone.

After becoming prime minister, he came up with a new formula to thwart peace: the idea that Palestinian recognition of Israel is not enough. They must recognize Israel “as a Jewish state.”

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

– See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.FBz0Q20d.dpuf

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

– See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.FBz0Q20d.dpuf

This is different. Neither Egypt nor Jordan had to recognize Israel as anything but Israel when they signed peace treaties with it. No country in the world recognizes Israel as anything but “Israel,” just like no country recognizes any other country “as anything” other than its name.

In fact, the phrase “Jewish state” first came into modern prominence because of a mistranslation. Theodor Herzl, who invented political Zionism, called his 1895 manifesto calling for a Jewish homeland Der Judenstaat which was mistranslated in English as The Jewish State. Actually, the very secular and assimilated Herzl called his book The Jews’ State, meaning a homeland or state for Jews, not some kind of theocracy for the faithful.

And Israeli governments were more than content with that until Netanyahu decided to demand that Israel must be recognized as Jewish by religion.

Secular Israelis don’t like that. Orthodox rabbis already interfere in public and private life in a way that is utterly unique in the western world where church/state separation has become the norm. Theocratic influence in Israel is already so onerous that most Jews in Jerusalem are Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. The rest choose Tel Aviv and other areas to escape the rabbis and their rulings. Thousands have left the capital for Tel Aviv for precisely this reason.

Additionally, the religious formulation excludes foreign Jews, including American Jews, whose Judaism derives from their fathers and not mothers. They are ineligible to become instant citizens under the Law of Return. Only Jewish orthodoxy is recognized in Israel.

In other words, the status quo is bad enough, even without the insistence that Israel be recognized “as a Jewish state.”

Palestinians feel this even more strongly than non-Orthodox Jews, of course. After all, there are a million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who would be relegated into permanent second-class citizenship under the new formulation. Additionally, that formulation precludes any—even a token—return to Israel by any Palestinian refugees or their progeny. The “Jewish state” formulation declares all Palestinians to be foreigners in their ancestral homeland, even those who live there now and whose ancestors never left the land. Given that there will be no resolution of the conflict without addressing the issue of Palestinian return to the satisfaction of both parties, Netanyahu’s formulation destroys any chance for peace.

And that is why the “as a Jewish state” mantra was invented: to preclude an agreement with the Palestinians.

Palestinians have recognized Israel’s right to exist in security. It is Israel that, in occupying the ’67 lands, is denying Palestinians that same right. Adding the phony “as a Jewish state” demand to the mix is just one way to ensure that the occupation continues forever.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC’s newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.