The U.S.-backed Palestinian-Israeli peace process is said to have reached yet another impasse. This time it is not due to the Israelis’ never curbed settlement expansion but to their irreversible demand of having Israel recognized by the Palestinians as a “Jewish state.”
The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been given until April 29 to come up with a framework agreement on the peace process that he himself fought hard to revive in July 2013 after a three-year hiatus, yet no considerable tangible progress has been achieved although there is only one month left.
Although the Israeli “Jewish state” demand is expected to send the long-awaited peace talks into another prolonged hiatus, no official statement has been made by the Americans, neither announcing or anticipating another deadlock in the talks nor at least extending them with the deadline quickly approaching.
Yet, the U.S. might set another deadline to settle the “Jewish state” issue which seems to be an irreversible demand of the Israelis on one hand and an unacceptable matter by the Palestinians on the other. This is what I was told by a well-informed source very familiar with the U.S. Department of State who described the “Jewish state” dilemma as the first and foremost hindrance to this round of peace talks between the two sides.
To avert a possible deadlock in the peace talks, U.S. President Barack Obama recently met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to help salvage the faltering peace talks threatened by deadlock.
The concept of a “Jewish state” contradicts Israel’s presentation of itself as a civic state and as the only democracy in the Middle EastRaed Omari
Little has been said about Obama’s meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas as part of the confidentiality of the talks. However, news reports cited the U.S. president as urging the two leaders to make “tough” political decisions that can narrow the gaps on core issues and allow the process to continue beyond April 29.
Kerry’s meeting with Abbas in Amman very recently has also been part of the U.S.’s efforts to push for progress in the talks ahead of the April deadline.
The Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations have been taking place in secret, yet it has been leaked and “coyly” expressed here and there by other stakeholders in the talks that Kerry’s framework agreement rests on a variety of core issues, including the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, Israel’s insistence that it be recognized as a Jewish state, the right of return for the Palestinians in the diaspora and security in the West Bank, with Israel insisting on a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley.
Shortly after the re-launch of peace talks in July last year, the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis was centered around Tel Aviv’s insistence on a military presence in the Jordan Valley – the only geographical border a future Palestinian state would have with its Arab neighbor Jordan. However, such a heated item never come again under spotlight since long time by the two sides which could mean that it has been resolved or that it has been minimized or put aside with the emergence of other mega issues.
The same thing can be said about the right of return that has been considerably alleviated with regard to Abbas’ recent statement that he was not looking “to flood Israel“ with returning Palestinian refugees.
Remarkably enough, there is little mention of the Israeli of settlement construction in the West Bank although it is being massively expanded at the same time peace talks are being pushed forward by the Americans, with much of the focus nowadays being placed upon the “Jewish state” dilemma.
Despite the fact that the continued settlement activity is such a mega matter that lies at the heart of the borders and Jerusalem issues, the realization of the “Jewish state” demand is of prime significance for the Israelis and can guarantee them a settlement of the two major status issues according to their strategic interest and at the expense of those of the Palestinians. In other words, the “Jewish state” incorporates borders and Jerusalem, though not explicitly announced.
Rationalizing their rejection of the ‘Jewish state’ notion, many Palestinian leaders cited its inevitable threat to the rights of non-Jewish Arabs living in Israel, who make up some 20% of the population. But the story is much beyond that indeed.
In a recent testimony at a congressional hearing, Kerry was quoted in international press as saying that the “Jewish state was resolved in 1947 in [U.N.] Resolution 181 where there are more than 30 to 40 mentions of ‘Jewish state,’” adding late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had already accepted the idea of a Jewish state in principle. Referring to repeated statements by Netanyahu, during his visit to the White House on March 3, Kerry said, “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.”
Speaking recently at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu has been also quoted as demanding that Abbas recognize Israel as a “Jewish State,” saying, “President Abbas: recognize the Jewish state and in doing so, you would be telling your people.. to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees.”
Borders and Jerusalem
Though lying at the heart of the refugee issue, the story of the “Jewish state” has to do more with borders and Jerusalem. For the Palestinians, recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” from a moral perspective is like dropping their legitimacy as owners of the land. For them, the whole idea has to do with the historical and theological dispute over who owns that land they only see as Palestine occupied by Israel needless to mention of course what the Israelis think of the whole thing.
Plus, once the Palestinians recognize Israel as a purely “Jewish state,” the question will be on how toestablish their aspired state within that “Jewish state” in a way that includes Jerusalem. Before deciding on the “Jewish state” matter, there needs to be in fact an agreement over the borders of the future state of the Palestinians who can then decide the geographical boundaries of land they will recognize as ‘Jewish.”
However, what is really missing in the Israeli narrative on the “Jewish state” notion is the word “purely,” although implied covertly, conveying in a way or another that the whole land in dispute is originally Jewish and never Arab and Islamic.
All in all, the concept of a “Jewish state” contradicts Israel’s presentation of itself as a civic state and as the only democracy in the Middle East. It is also against the Israelis’ rejection of the conceptualization of Israel as a religious entity ruled by religious fanatics. The “Jewish state” notion also brings up the question of who rules who in Israel. Is it the civil politicians that have the upper hand in Israel or the religious figures, or the Zionists?
For the peace process to move forward, the Israelis have to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the “civil Israeli state” and not the “Jewish state” and then, and only then, the two-state solution, hoped to bring about an independent and viable Palestinian state, can be realized. Other than that, the “Jewish state” idea would mean nothing more than new complications added to the already complicated peace process.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2