A quick fix for recognizing Israel as… what?
There is really nothing startling about the idea of Israel as a Jewish state
How can I promise a “quick fix” which this issue is so seemingly complex that I cannot even fit the issue into a title for this week’s column: Which should be: (if space not be a headline writer’s concern) “A quick fix for recognizing Israel as a Jewish State or as the nation state of the Jewish People. Or as State of Some of the Jewish people” – but that last bit of phrasing is not among the various ways Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu put it.
There is really nothing startling about the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.
The U.N. Partition Resolution in 1947 referenced in recent years by the Palestine Authority, as one of the international documents recognizing an Arab state in Palestine, also referred to what would within less than year become Israel - a rather swollen geographical version of the U.N. partition plan - as a Jewish state.
It has always been the very essence of modern (late 19th century) Zionism, that the Jews are a nation or a people as well as a religion (a polite afterthought for many of the earliest Zionists) and thus must have their own state - even more so in the very earliest years of the movement, than the prospective Jewish state’s specific location in Palestine.
At one time - again, in the movement’s very earliest years - Uganda might have done the job.
There is really nothing startling about the idea of Israel as a Jewish stateAbdallah Schleifer
What is so startling is that Netanyahu now says this definition is a condition - “a minimal requirement” - for any Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty and Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.
That was not the case in either the Israeli-Egyptian or the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties. And Israeli President Shimon Peres, according to Haaretz, has said in private conversations with Israeli officials that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, is “unnecessary.”
So the speculation (and this has been going on for months in the Israeli press) is that this is either the latest way for Israel to sabotage the peace process in such a way that it is the Palestinians who will get blamed for its failure – a long standing Israeli manoeuvre.
Or, that this part of the back-story to strengthen Netanyahu’s hand with elements in his own party (Likud) as well as coping with the inevitable withdrawal of the Religious Zionist HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party from the governing coalition, if and when he actually were to reach some sort of tortuous peace agreement with the Palestine Authority.
Mahmoud Abbas’ initial reaction to this demand was cool. He implicitly dismissed it as absurd. The PA authority, he noted, simply recognizes the state of Israel – how the Israelis define that state is their own business not the Palestinians.
Pressing the point
But as Netanyahu continued to press the point he got the reaction he was hoping for – instead of a simple and quite sophisticated dismissal, there is a fervent Palestinian refusal: As if this would somehow jeopardize the Palestinian Right of Return, which is intrinsically “jeopardized” so-to-speak by the very existence of the state of Israel; and that Right will become but a very tragic memory if there is to be a peace agreement with Israel.
Or, another Palestinian objection - to do so jeopardizes the rights of Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel ( rights guaranteed in the Israeli constitution), yet the denial of those rights has been an existential fact for the past 65 years.
But Abbas’ original response points to the “quick fix.” If formal acknowledgement – by the Palestinians, and thus implicitedly by the world of this obvious political reality - is so basic, so critical, of such overriding importance, then let Netanyahu change the name of The State of Israel” to the “Jewish State of Israel” as Pakistan re- named itself “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan” in 1956.
It is, after all, what could be constructed as a biblical-sounding edict that governs global diplomacy – by thy name so shall ye be known.
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary “Control Room” and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”
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