Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that he has discovered the recipe to ensure that legitimacy is given to his refusal to withdraw from the West Bank while, at the same time, holding the Palestinians responsible for the failure to reach a political settlement of the conflict. This recipe is in the form of Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”. At first glance, it seems that Netanyahu’s attempt to impose this demand aims to ensure that the Jewish demographic character of Israel is maintained, on the grounds that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewishness would imply a waiver of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to lands from which they or their parents and grandparents were displaced in 1948. Sadly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear on more than one occasion that the solution to the refugee problem is not necessarily through their return to areas from which they were expelled; this has upset the Palestinian people. In addition, Abbas appealed to the Israelis in an interview with Channel 2 on November 2, 2012, in which he said that he dreams of returning to the city of Safed, from which his family was driven in 1948, but only as a tourist.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority under Abbas refuses to recognise the Jewishness of Israel because Netanyahu assumes that by taking this step the Palestinians would be handing over ownership of the land, including the West Bank, to the Jews alone, and therefore entitling them to enhance their settlement and colonisation project. In his speech at the most recent AIPAC conference in America, Netanyahu claimed that the Zionist narrative regarding the ownership of the land of Palestine, specifically the West Bank, is the only “historical fact”. According to Netanyahu, Hebron is “the land of our patriarchs where Abraham purchased a cave”; Jerusalem was where “David ruled his kingdom”; and Bethel (a settlement north of Ramallah) represents “the place where Jacob dreamed his dreams”. Netanyahu does not highlight the Jewish history in Palestine to highlight “the price” he is willing to pay to reach a political settlement to the conflict, but to justify his refusal to make any true concessions. Hence, he did not hesitate to commit before his party, Likud, not to evacuate any settlements in the West Bank in the context of any political settlement with the Palestinians (Ha’aretz, January 6, 2014).
However, Netanyahu, who is committed to only one historical narrative, not only insists on preserving the settlements, which cover at least 12 per cent of the occupied West Bank, but the governing party he leads is also insisting on keeping what is known as “Greater Jerusalem”, which represents 10 per cent of the West Bank, and the Jordan Valley, which covers 27 per cent of the West Bank. That would leave just 52 per cent of the West Bank for the Palestinians to establish an independent State of Palestine. It is unfortunate that a number of Western leaders have supported Netanyahu’s position and demanded that the Palestinians recognise Israel’s Jewishness, including US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There is also evidence that the United States has given legitimacy to the conditions that Netanyahu believes the Palestinians must meet as a result of their recognition of the “Jewish” state of Israel. US Secretary of State John Kerry has reassured Jewish settlers in the West Bank by saying that his plan for an agreement does not require the evacuation of any of them from their homes or the dismantling of any settlement, and that settlers could remain in the areas that are supposed to be allotted for the Palestinian state (Maariv, February 19, 2014).
If we take into account the fact that the Israelis reject any element of true sovereignty for a future Palestinian state, especially control over its borders, then the “independent Palestine” that Kerry’s plan promises is nothing but a self-governing authority. The price of recognising the Jewishness of Israel not only drives the Palestinians in the West Bank into the Diaspora but also the Palestinians in Israel, who are Israeli citizens. In order to guarantee the “ethnic purity” of Israel as a Jewish state, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has proposed land and population swaps between the Palestinians and Israelis; this would affect the Triangle and Wadi Ara areas, where over 60 per cent of Palestinian citizens of Israel live. They would be “swapped” in exchange for Palestinian approval of the annexation of settlements by Israel. Despite their rights as citizens of the State of Israel, Lieberman believes that international law permits the transfer of the Palestinians in Israel, even without their consent (Jerusalem Post, March 27, 2014).
Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of Israel means accepting the passing of racist laws that aim to preserve the Jewish nature of the state. Representatives of Israeli political parties, especially in the governing coalition, have not waited for such recognition before passing several racist laws, the most recent of which was the “governance” law, which increased the percentage of votes in elections in order to prevent Arab representation in the Israeli parliament. It is also evident that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewishness legitimises discrimination against Palestinians in Israel. According to a recent Israeli study, the level of services received by Arab citizens of Israel is less than 60 per cent than those offered to the Jews (The Marker, March 10, 2014). In addition to Netanyahu demanding that the Palestinians adopt “the only historical truth”, that is, the Zionist narrative of the history of Palestine, the ministers in his government are demanding the re-drafting of the Palestinian curriculum in order to fit with this narrative, as demanded by Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Yedioth Ahranoth, March 15, 2014). Israeli officials consider the Palestinians’ insistence on their own narrative of Palestinian history to be “incitement” and out of synch with the approach to settle the conflict peacefully.
In other words, the Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of Israel means “Zionising” the collective consciousness of the Palestinians in every sense of the word. Regrettably, the United States is putting pressure on the Palestinians to accept the Zionist historical narrative. The Israeli Minister of International Relations, Yuval Steinitz, succeeded in convincing members of the Budget Committee in the US Senate to call on March 4 for an end to Palestinian “incitement” against Israel as a condition for the continuation of US financial support to the Palestinian Authority (Maariv, March 5, 2014). Steinitz regards the Palestinians’ insistence on their historic rights to Palestine as “a form of incitement” that must be stopped. Ironically, Steinitz himself mourned the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Shas movement, few months ago, describing him as “a great rabbi, and a great intellectual”. It is worth noting Yosef’s contribution towards inciting Israelis against the Arabs, such as his repeated calls for “exterminating” the Arabs who he described as “…evil and damnable. It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them” (Ha’aretz, October 20, 2013).
The heavy burdens of Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of Israel will not only be borne by the Palestinians, but also by hundreds of millions of Muslims who believe that Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most sacred place in the world. Over a third of MPs in the governing coalition in Israel have proposed a bill demanding Israeli sovereignty over the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa on the grounds that it was built on the remains of the temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 135 AD. Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and a senior Likud official, as well as the drafter of the bill, said that putting Al-Aqsa Mosque under Jewish sovereignty is the most important expression of Israel’s Jewishness (Maariv, February 25, 2014).
It has been proven unequivocally that Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of Israel practically means accepting the liquidation of their cause and “Zionising” their national awareness. However, the Palestinian people will not abandon their national and political rights.
With regards to Netanyahu’s insistence on “the only true history”, he should examine the conclusions reached by the Jewish historian Chaim Gans in his book A Political Theory for the Jewish People: Three Zionist Narratives, which undermine the Israeli prime minister’s historical arguments. “If the Jewish people left the country of Israel for 1,000 years or more, as they were preoccupied with life outside its borders,” asks Gan, “how they can claim that they were the historical owners of the land and remained so even after leaving it?”
In short, if Netanyahu is dismantling the facts of history opportunistically and selectively to justify his extreme political views and to ensure the prolonging of the conflict, it is unfortunate that those who present themselves as “representatives of the free world” are assisting him.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.