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The impact of recognising Israel as a Jewish state

The Zionist project is a comprehensive, long-term programme. Given that the Arab people don't have a single national narrative or memory, Israel's story from the earliest immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century has been one of steady progress. It is easy to see the Arab retreat and Israeli progress since the establishment of the state in 1948.

The Arab leadership has tended to focus on isolated details, looking at them as independent issues. The Zionists, on the other hand, look at matters comprehensively, precisely and flexibly. They are aware of available possibilities, capable of creating the right conditions to suit their aims (as well as adapting existing ones) and transforming challenges into opportunities.

Lacking a coherent strategic vision, the Arabs are hesitant and influenced easily. This opens the door to the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, and the Zionist media to penetrate public and ruling positions in the Arab world, seeking out weak spots backed all the time, of course, by US hegemony.

Israel insists on the recognition by the world, and especially the Palestinians, of its status as a "Jewish state". This has serious implications for Israel's non-Jewish citizens and could signal another step in the drive to remove all trace of Palestinian existence in historic Palestine.

The idea of "The Jewish State" was mooted by Theodor Herzl in his book of the same name, published in 1896. The newly-formed World Jewish Congress adopted the book's content as a programme of action for the Zionist movement. It depended from the very beginning on immigration to Palestine (although that was not Herzl's first choice of location for the state) and international support, especially colonialist countries who would, it was believed (rightly) look favourably on what was in effect another colonial project.

On 2 November 1917, Britain's foreign minister, Arthur Balfour, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild on behalf of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, in which he said that the government "views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

This, then, was the birth certificate of the Zionist project but it only promised the establishment of a "national home" for Jews "in Palestine". Britain was given the League of Nations "Mandate" to guide Palestine towards independence in the post-First World War carve-up of the Ottoman Empire. The 1946 Anglo-American Joint Commission of Inquiry into Jewish migration to Palestine said that a "Jewish state" went beyond what the Balfour Declaration and British Mandate intended. Zionism, however, has always sought to take all of the land of historic Palestine, not just what others allocated or suggested.

When the nascent United Nations resolved to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947, the Zionists interpreted the move as a reward for the Jews' struggle against the British Mandate, which involved terrorism against British occupiers and Palestinians alike. The partition resolution, claimed the Zionist movement, gave it legitimacy and cemented this in the psyche of the international community. It should be noted that the partition was based on ethnicity not religion; most religious Jews objected to the Zionist project because it was against the teachings of Judaism. Today, even though most Israelis would call themselves "secular Jews", they cling to the belief that God gave the Jews "the Promised Land" and that this is their birthright. Many Jews object to the occupation of Palestinian land but still support the concept of a Jewish state.

The late, unlamented Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli official to renew the call for recognition of the Jewish identity of Israel in his speech before US President George W Bush in Aqaba in 2003, with Hosni Mubarak present. There was no reaction from the Arabs or Mahmoud Abbas, who was at the time Palestinian prime minister. The Arab League had come up with the "Arab Initiative" in Beirut in 2001, despite US Secretary of State Colin Powell calling upon Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Bush adopted this in his speeches, including his farewell speech to the Knesset in May 2008. It is believed that the term was also in the guarantee letters Sharon received from Bush on April 24, 2004 which flipped the US position upside down, proceeding towards finalising a US law in November 2002 during preparations to invade Iraq; this committed the administration to recognising Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel.

The whole concept of Israel's "Jewishness" was set out in the "declaration of independence", followed by Israel's 1950 "Law of Return" for Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted on recognition of this as a precondition for talks with the Palestinians, following Obama's use of the term at the UN in September 2010. Ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert had also used it as a precondition to talks. The question is; do the Palestinians realise the impact and consequences of the term?

Israel as a "Jewish state" does not mean that it is going to be a faith-based state; it means that nationality will be exclusively for ethnic Jews. The Palestinian Arabs living in Israel, 20 per cent of the population will become a foreign minority. Thus their right to live on their own land will be removed. Their presence in historic Palestine is the material evidence that this was somebody else's land before Israel was created and the ethnic cleansing began, but the Zionists will be able to "deport" them beyond "the Jewish state".

Palestinian recognition would change Israel's hope of a Jewish state into a legal reality and clear the way for more ethnic cleansing. It would also destroy Palestinian refugees' legitimate right of return to their historic homeland from which they were expelled at gunpoint by the Zionists and then the Israelis. Recognising Israel as a Jewish state means that minorities who enjoy Israeli citizenship but not nationality will lose that citizenship.

Since Israel was established as per the UN partition plan, and Israel is the one to decide its own borders (which have never been declared to this day), Palestinians' right to establish their own independent state will also be dropped. Israel can then declare that all of historic Palestine is Israeli and Jewish, and Palestinians are thus foreigners in Israel.

UN General Assembly resolution number 273 of May 1949 put three conditions for accepting Israel as a member of the UN, the most important of which was that the new state would have a constitution which calls for respect for minorities and respect for the Palestinians to have their own state. It also insists on Israel allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land. That right, of course, has never been implemented and will disappear with recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state".

The world recognised Israel after the partition decision, but it did not recognise the legitimacy of its occupation of land taken over and beyond that which was set out in the partition plan. Because Israel has not met the conditions of its membership of the UN, it is on the way to declaring itself to be a Jewish and thus a racially-based state, putting itself beyond the pale for such membership. If the Jewish state becomes a reality, the UN should decide again whether or not to recognise this new state based on ethnicity alone.

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state will also be reflected on what it does in occupied Jerusalem and yet another key component of Palestinian demands for the negotiations – East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine – will be dropped, as will all UN resolutions relating to Palestinian rights and demands for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.

Palestinians will be pushed across the River Jordan and told to declare their state in place of the Hashemite Kingdom; the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine will thus be complete

In short, agreeing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state will mean the complete liquidation of the Palestinian cause and independent state and the achievement of the Zionists' ultimate goal, Greater Israel. In this sense alone, President Obama is the Israelis' best option in the White House as the Zionist project reaches its zenith and the Palestinians are removed from the equation, and their land, completely.

The author is an international law professor at the American University in Cairo, an Islamist thinker and a veteran Egyptian diplomat.

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

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