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Netanyahu and the Jewish state

January 25, 2014 at 6:00 am

“It is not possible to terminate negotiations without starting them.” This precious piece of wisdom was uttered by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with BBC Arabic TV. He could and should have enlightened us further by adding, “…and even if we start these negotiations, we will never finish them at all.”

Netanyahu’s interview was important because he explained, perhaps for the first time publicly and in an exact manner, what it would mean for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. It is not to be put in the religious sense, he claimed, “and this means that non-Jews can live in Israel, the democratic state”; no doubt this was to alleviate fears that the forced expulsion of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens is a very real possibility. “Although Jews make up the majority of the population of Israel,” said the Prime Minister, “the minority of non-Jews enjoy full civil rights”. Israel, he added, “is the only place in the entire Middle East where Arabs have full, equal civil rights.” Many Arab citizens of Israel would disagree with that assessment, but what Netanyahu means by a Jewish state is that Jews from around the world would be able to go to Israel, just as a Palestinian state would mean that Palestinians from anywhere in the world could go to Palestine.

By excluding the religious dimension the Israeli leader hopes to ward off any responsibility for the scenario of a faith-based conflict; this was predicted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Palestinian recognition of the Jewish nature of the state of Israel will never happen, said Abbas. Why? Because the definition as put forward by Netanyahu, which on the face of it seems logical and reasonable, would mean that Jews born anywhere could go to Israel and obtain citizenship while Palestinians with roots in the country going back centuries continue to be excluded from returning there. Even documentary evidence of land and home ownership does not get them residency rights.

What sort of logic is this? If it is not a religious dimension then it is undoubtedly racist and that’s worse. The reality of the situation is that Jews today are welcome in the state of Israel at any time while Palestinians are not, either in Israel itself or the occupied Palestinian territories administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas knows that if the Palestinians recognise the Jewishness of Israel, for which Netanyahu is pushing, Jews will have the right to settle in any city in historic Palestine, while Palestinians are prevented from doing do so even if they live just a few kilometres away from the towns and villages from which they were expelled. This ban, post-recognition, would not be in place because of Israeli oppression, it would be there because the Palestinian leadership had agreed to it being there. Such recognition, therefore, would not only destroy the dreams inherited across generations but also negate all international laws and resolutions which affirm the Palestinians’ right of return.

Such a move would give international legitimacy to what Israel has been doing illegally for many years in any case; it doesn’t need Palestinian recognition. In removing the right of return, Israel also insists on the Palestinians acknowledging that their state can only be established on, at best, 22 percent of historic Palestine.

The Palestinian president is to be congratulated for rejecting demands to recognise the Jewish identity of the state of Israel. As some Palestinian officials pointed out, the leadership has recognized Israel since 1993 and there is no need to give further recognition. Israelis have the right to identify their state in any way they like, but they have no right to ask the impossible from Palestinians.

Source: London-based Al Quds Al Arabi Newspaper

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.