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Bill to declare Israel a Jewish state back on national agenda

May 7, 2017 at 2:54 pm

A woman hangs the Israel flag after a forest fire runs through Mount Carmel area in northern Haifa, Israel on November 25, 2016 [Daniel Bar On / Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s cabinet breathed new life on Sunday into efforts to anchor in law the country’s status as a Jewish state, legislation Palestinians have described as an obstacle to peace.

A ministerial committee approved a revised version of a bill first proposed in 2011 that declares the “State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people”, its author, Avi Dichter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, wrote on Facebook.

The legislation still has to go through further drafting by the Justice Ministry and pass several votes in parliament in what could be a lengthy process.

But the cabinet-level step – two weeks before a visit by US President Donald Trump – could help Netanyahu shore up relations with far-right members of his government and underpin his campaign to press Palestinians to recognise Israel as the “nation-state” of the Jewish people.

Such acknowledgement has been a key Netanyahu demand for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in 2014 and which Trump has pledged to pursue.

Read: Trump’s 1,000-strong entourage for Israel trip

“…turns us into second-class citizens”

Palestinians say accepting Netanyahu’s call could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has characterised such “nation-state” legislation as putting “obstacles in the way of peace”.

In meetings in Israel, Trump will discuss how he plans to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a goal that has evaded many previous administrations. He is also scheduled to meet Abbas during the trip.

Critics have described the proposed legislation, which also declares that the “right to self determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people” as impinging on the rights of its Arab minority, who make up some 20 percent of the population.

“The nation-state law is tyranny by the majority and ‘legally’ turns us into second-class citizens,” Arab legislator Ayman Odeh wrote on Twitter after the cabinet committee’s decision.

Centrists in Netanyahu’s government have argued a “nation-state” bill is unnecessary, noting the 1948 Declaration of Independence already proclaimed a Jewish state. They have accused him of pandering to right-wingers, and past versions of the legislation failed to make it through parliament.