Good ~ Bad ~ Ugly

The following webpages contain an overview of the countries and individuals
in recent history that  have impacted Israel the most.


The Good: a brief history of the heroes that were integral to the establishment of Israel starting in the 1890’s …

(this section includes the British, who weren’t really “Good Guys”)

The Bad:  Israel’s current enemies

The Ugly:  the fragile nature of the peace with Jordan and Egypt, Palestinian duplicity and Turkey’s dark side

The Nazis and the Holocaust: the events of 1933 to 1945

The Muslim Brotherhood: Understanding its roots and impact

The Arab Riots of 1920’s: The pioneers of Terror

Wars: The Neighbors

Treaties and Accords: The successes and failures

History of the Ancient Temples:


Recognizing Israel as the Jewish State: Statements
Daniel Pipes
January 24, 2014

It has become increasingly clear in recent years that the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by Arab states with Jerusalem does not equate to accepting Zionism, which is to say, accepting that Israel is a state created by Jews as a homeland for Jews. This weblog entry pursues that theme, focusing on two topics: Israeli insistence on being recognized as the Jewish state and Arab responses to this demand.


To start with, a review of the idea of the Jewish state in key historical documents:

1896: Theodor Herzl’s publication of Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”) is widely considered the foundational event of modern Zionism.

1917: The British government adopted the Zionist goal when the Balfour Declaration which views with favor the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people.”


1947: U.N. General Assembly resolution 181 of November 29, the one partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine into two, uses the term Jewish state 27 times in its text and 3 times in the footnotes. For example:

Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, set forth in Part III of this Plan, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948.

Also of note: the other part of Palestine was to become an “Arab State” – not a Muslim state. Thus did the Israel’s founding document divide the territory into the followers of a religion and speakers of a language.

1948: (1)The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, mentions Jewish state 5 times, most importantly in the operational passage “we … hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

(2) President Harry Truman had decided to recognize the Jewish State and requested a formal request for recognition of statehood. Because the name of this state had, just hours before the declaration of independence, not yet been decided (“Judea” and “Zion” were possibilities), the representative of the Jewish Agency in the United States, Eliahu Epstein, submitted the request to Truman without mentioning the new polity’s name, using instead the United Nations’ name for this territory, the “Jewish State”:
I have the honor to notify you that the Jewish State has been proclaimed as an independent republic … and that a provisional government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of the Jewish State, for defending the state against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of the Jewish State to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law. … I have been authorized to by the provisional government of the new state to tender this message and to express the hope that your government will recognize and will welcome the Jewish State into the community of nations.

white house

(3) The typed document prepared for Truman used the dummy “Jewish state” term – which the president, who had heard the new state’s name by then, proceeded to scratch out in favor of Israel.
This Government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional Government thereof. The United States recognizes the provision government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel.


2003: The Government of Israel headed by Ariel Sharon appended 14 reservations in the course of accepting George W. Bush’s proposed Road Map on May 25. No. 6 was:

In connection to both the introductory statements and the final settlement, declared references must be made to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.
US recognize

Comments: (1) Israel’s being a “Jewish state” is not just a recent whim but the legal reason for this polity coming into existence. It has become contentious lately because Israel’s enemies have figured they can accept Israel but really mean by it Palestine. So the Israelis have added the Jewish state element as part of the mix.

(2) Until about 2006, the concept of Jewish state was discussed mainly among thinkers about the nature of Israel and how it lives up to Jewish ideals. For example, see two essays by Daniel J. Elazar, “Israel as a Jewish State” (1990) and “Jewish Values in the Jewish State” (1996).

And then two contrary documents from the Palestinian side:

1964: The Palestine National Charter (also known as the PLO Covenant), Article 20 attempts totally to negate the above:

The Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate, and everything that has been based on them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of their own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.

While Arafat in the 1990s made a feint toward rescinding this document, it remains in effect so. Indeed, this article represents a major stumbling block to the acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state.

2003: The so-called “Constitution of the State of Palestine,” third draft, dated March 7, 2003, and revised on March 25, 2003, contains two paragraphs of note:

Article 2. Palestine is part of the Arab nation. The state of Palestine abides by the charter of the League of Arab States. The Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations. Arab unity is a goal, the Palestinian people hopes to achieve.

Article 5. Arabic and Islam are the official Palestinian language and religion. Christianity and all other monotheistic religions shall be equally revered and respected. The Constitution guarantees equality in rights and duties to all citizens irrespective of their religious belief.

Comment: So, Israel is not be a Jewish state but “Palestine” is a Muslim state? Not only is that inconsistent, but it contradicts the 1947 U.N. partition resolution.

Back to the present: a telephone poll of a representative sample of adult Israeli Jews asks this question:

Recently a law was proposed according to which every candidate for the Knesset must commit that he recognizes the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish State. Are you for or against the proposed law?

In reply, 72 percent favored the law, and 18 percent were against it. The poll has a statistical error of +/- 4.4, was carried out by Teleseker, and published in Ma’ariv. Comment: Such numbers provide an important political basis for the Government of Israel taking up this matter.( April 13, 2007)

Nov. 13, 2007 update: According to the so-called Palestine Papers, a data dump published by Al Jazeera of leaked documents internal Palestinian Authority notes from a decade of negotiations with Israel, Tzipi Livni demanded recognition of the Jewish state on behalf of the Ehud Olmert government. She declared that the goal of negotiations is

Each state constituting the homeland for its people and the fulfillment of their national aspirations and self determination in their own territory. Israel the state of the Jewish people – and I would like to emphasize the meaning of “its people” is the Jewish people – with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3007 years… The whole idea of the conflict is … the establishment of the Jewish state. … Even having a Jewish state – it doesn?t say anything about your demands. … Without it, why should we create a Palestinian state? … the ultimate goal is constituting the homeland for the Jewish people and the Palestinian people respectively, and the fulfillment of their national aspirations and self determination in their own territory.

Nov. 29, 2007 update: (1) I discuss this issue’s new prominence today, on the 60th anniversary of the U.N. partition resolution, in a column titled “Accept Israel as the Jewish State?

(2) Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s opposition leader, commemorated 60 years since the passage on November 29, 1947, of the United Nations resolution recognizing a Jewish state. He discussed Arab reluctance to accept Israel: “Since [1947], we have made peace with Egypt and Jordan, but the obstacle to widening the circle of peace remains what it has always been: the refusal of Israel’s enemies to recognize the Jewish State in any borders. Our enemies do not want an Arab state next to Israel. They want an Arab state instead of Israel.”

Dec. 1, 2007 update: Mahmoud Abbas added his voice today to those who reject Israel as a Jewish state.

From a historical perspective, there are two states: Israel and Palestine. In Israel, there are Jews and others living there. This we are willing to recognize, nothing else.

Comment: Abbas appears willing to recognize that there is a state called Israel that includes Jews in its population, but insists that its nature is undefined.

Dec. 13, 2007 update: Ha’aretz today published details of a 26-page document dating from February 2001,signed by Gilad Sher, bureau chief to then prime minister Ehud Barak, titled, “The Status of the Diplomatic Process with the Palestinians Points to Update the Incoming Prime Minister.” As this heading implies, it reviewed the negotiations so that Ariel Sharon would know the state of play on taking office.

Among the differences between the two parties was this: “a disagreement among the Palestinians with regard to formal recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Comment: This document reminds us that the Jewish state issue did not appear out of nowhere in 2007.

Dec. 13, 2007 update: Kenneth W. Stein of Emory University provides some context for the current debate at “Annapolis: Precedents and Transactions, But No Transformations”:

For years it was widely held that Sadat’s November 1977 visit to Jerusalem broke the psychological barrier between the Arab and Israeli peoples. Having the leader of the most populous Arab state stand before the Israeli parliament in front of a picture of Theodore Herzl and proclaim that “the October War will be the last war” was indeed unprecedented. But neither Sadat, nor American diplomats and Arab leaders undertook to alter basic Arab attitudes toward Israel. In the peace treaties which Israel signed with both Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), there is no mention of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

At Annapolis, by contrast, US President George W. Bush publicly emphasized that the “US would maintain its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state,…[and] to Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.” Similarly Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that the negotiations should conclude with ” two states for two peoples, a peace-seeking Palestinian state, a viable, strong, democratic and terror-free state for the Palestinian people; and the state of Israel, Jewish and democratic, living in security and free from the threat of terrorism, the national home of the Jewish people. “

By contrast, at both Annapolis and the subsequent donor’s conference, Chairman of the PLO and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmud Abbas shied away from making a similar statement. Instead, he focused on the Palestinian core demands, achieving ” freedom, independence, getting rid of the occupation, establishing the state of independent Palestine within the 1967 borders and guaranteeing the rights of our people’s refugees in accordance with resolution 194.” To be sure, he categorized Annapolis as ” a turning point in a very dangerous and old conflict.” However, saying that Annapolis was a turning point and making it so are light years apart.

On November 29, 2007, exactly sixty years after the UN voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the Saudi Arabian paper al-Watan noted that the “Jewishness of the state of Israel will in fact provide the fuel for an eternal conflict between the Arabs and Moslems on the one hand, and the state of Israel on the other.”

For many in the Arab and Moslem world and elsewhere, when Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, then Palestinians will no longer sustain the dream of living in portions of what was Israel prior to the 1967 June war. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean surrendering a core element in Palestinian national identity; it would mean essentially ending the Arab-Israeli conflict without a complete victory by the Arab side. It would mark an underlying and fundamental transformation, one that has obviously not yet occurred. Hamas refuses unequivocally to abandon that core element. Similarly, Abbas endorses the core. Unlike Hamas but like Sadat, at least thus far, Abbas believes that he can recognize Israel’s legitimacy without accepting its Jewish essence.

 Dec. 19, 2007 update: Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic clergyman since 1987 and an ally of the PLO, has added his voice to the debate, announcing that “If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against,” and advising Israel to abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews. This land cannot be exclusive for anyone.”

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah.

Jan. 1, 2008 updates:(1) Ehud Omert, Israel’s prime minister, replied thus when asked about the views of Mahmoud Abbas on Israel being the Jewish state:

My impression is that he wants peace with Israel, and accepts Israel as Israel defines itself. If you ask him to say that he sees Israel as a Jewish state, he will not say that. But if you ask me whether in his soul he accepts Israel, as Israel defines itself, I think he does. That is not insignificant. It is perhaps not enough, but it is not insignificant.

To remind, a month earlier Abbas publicly had this to say on the subject: “From a historical perspective, there are two states: Israel and Palestine. In Israel, there are Jews and others living there. This we are willing to recognize, nothing else.”

Comment: Olmert clearly knows more than we on the outside about the way Abbas thinks, so I defer to him there. But, that hardly matters for, as I wrote back in 1993 (in “Both Sides of Their Mouths[: Arab Leaders’ Private vs. Public Statements]“), “Public pronouncements count more than confidential revelations.” Here’s why:

they predict [an Arab politician’s] actions better than private communications. Murmurings from his ear to yours might well reflect a politician’s personal views, but the rhetoric is more operational. … Were the views expressed in tête-à-têtes with Western officials operational, the Arab-Israeli conflict would have been resolved long ago.

This pattern, by the way, has an interesting implication:

Insiders attach great value to exclusive and confidential one-to-one conversations with leaders. To understand Middle East politics, however, one is better off reading newspapers and listening to radio broadcasts than talking to politicians in private. Privileged information tends to mislead; what the masses hear counts. This rule of thumb helps explain why distant observers more often get the point than do on-the-spot diplomats and journalists.

Abbas and Olmert provide a textbook example of this phenomenon.

(2) Sari Nusseibeh, professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem (and someone I knew as a graduate student in the 1970s) has sent a letter to a number of people, including myself, in which he offers his views on accepting Israel as the Jewish state:

My view, which goes along with the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document … is that (1) we already recognized Israel as a Jewish State by recognizing UN Resolution 181 [of November 29, 1947, the one that created Israel]; and, (2) that whether Israel is Jewish (or Martian) is not/should not be an issue for us: what is and should be an issue (for us) is whether Arab minority rights (culturally and individually) would be safeguarded in the State which we are being asked formally to recognize.

Jan. 9, 2008 update: Right off the plane at Tel Aviv airport, George W. Bush delivered a statement that included these phrases:

 The United States and Israel are strong allies. The source of that strength is a shared belief in the power of human freedom. Our people have built two great democracies under difficult circumstances. We built free economies to unleash the potential of our people. And the alliance between our two nations helps guarantee Israel’s security as a Jewish state.
Arrival Ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport

George W. Bush on arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

As the Associated Press’s White House reporter, Terence Hunt, noted: “Bush has referred to Israel as a Jewish state in the past but the reference—here in the region—had special significance.” It also has special significance given the Palestinian rejection of this term over the past two months.

Feb. 28, 2008 update: Mahmood Abbas reiterated his unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in an interview yesterday in Ad-Dustur, as translated by Palestinian Media Watch:

The Palestinian President emphasized his rejection of what is described as the Jewishness of the state [of Israel], and said: “We rejected this proposal at the Annapolis conference last November in the USA, and the conference was almost aborted because of it.”

May 12, 2008 update: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told an interviewer that

the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. …

the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.

Apr. 16, 2009 update: Olmert’s gone and Binyamin Netanyahu, his successor as Israeli prime minister, is raising the issue anew, telling U.S. envoy George Mitchell today Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state must precede negotiations over a Palestinian state. An unnamed “senior official in Netanyahu’s office” quoted the prime minister telling Mitchell that “Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples.” A second unnamed Israeli official said Netanyahu sees Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as “a crucial element in moving forward with the political dialogue.”

Apr. 17, 2009 update: Responding to Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh called his words a “provocation” that could have a “poisonous effect” on the region and accused the new Israeli government of placing obstacles before the two-state solution.

Apr. 19, 2009 update: The demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is, apparently, rejected by George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy. So writes Akiva Eldar in a Ha’aretz article, “U.S.: Palestinians need not recognize Israel as Jewish state before talks.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a condition for renewing peace talks is unacceptable to the United States, the State Department said during special envoy George Mitchell’s visits over the weekend to Ramallah and Cairo.

Eldar also reports that

Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has not spoken publicly on the issue, his associates said Saturday he is obligated to the party platform, which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. The platform does not mention Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for establishing a Palestinian state.

Also, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center published today a survey of Palestinian responses, past and present, to the Israeli demand that the state’s Jewish nature be recognized. For example, Saeb Erekat, chief PLO negotiator, said on April 16 that “what Netanyahu is demanding now – that we recognize Israel ‘s religious background – is unacceptable.”

Apr. 20, 2009 update: The Israeli prime minister’s media advisor issued this statement today:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is insistent in his approach that recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people is a matter of substance and principle that enjoys wide recognition in the country and around the world, without which it will not be possible to advance the diplomatic process and reach a peace settlement. However, the Prime Minister has never set this as a pre-condition for the opening of negotiations and dialogue with the Palestinians.

Comment: A true correction or a backtracking? If the former, the Ha’aretz story that opened this subject on April 16 was wrong; if the latter, it appears Netanyahu is playing both sides of the issue.

Later in the day, Netanyahu made this statement to his cabinet:

We insist that the Palestinians – in any diplomatic settlement with us – will recognize the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. … there is no doubt that we are being asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the national state for the Palestinian people but there is doubt and not just doubt, it is clear from the quick check that we carried out that the Palestinians have no intention of recognizing the national state of the Jewish People. Of course, this is completely unacceptable. … there is no doubt that we insist that they recognize the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. We have never conditioned the start and existence of talks on advance agreement about this but neither can we see progress on a future settlement without their agreement to this condition. Therefore, not only have we not backtracked from it, we stand behind it strongly and I think that in this regard, we reflect a very broad consensus, not only around this table but among the entire nation, a great part of the nation, and rightly so.

Apr. 27, 2009 update: Israel’s foreign ministry weighed in today with a statement on this subject that does not address the question of when the Jewish nature of Israel needs to be recognized:

The recognition of Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people is an essential and necessary step in the historic process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. The more the Palestinians assimilate this fundamental and substantive fact, the sooner the peace between the two nations will progress toward fruition.

May 4, 2009 update: Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, puts his views just as bluntly, also on April 27:

The “Jewish state.” What is a “Jewish state?” We call it the “State of Israel.” You can call yourselves whatever you want. But I will not accept it. And I say this on a live broadcast. … It’s not my job to define it, to provide a definition for the state and what it contains. You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the Socialist [Republic] call it whatever you like. I don’t care.

June 14, 2009 update: Netanyahu gave a major speech today, for the first time accepting the two-state solution (a Palestinian state along side an Israeli one). In return, he made several demands, pre-eminent among them being Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. First, he set up the background:

 bar ilan bibi
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, 2009.

In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing. The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.

Then, to the present:

Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred, and to our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.

Achieving peace will require courage and candor from both sides, and not only from the Israeli side. The Palestinian leadership must arise and say: “Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace.”

I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be. Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. To vest this declaration with practical meaning, there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s borders. For it is clear that any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people. …

our right to build our sovereign state here, in the land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged. … Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

He concludes:

If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitirization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.

July 5, 2009 update: For discussion of a parallel topic, see my weblog, “Salam Fayyad Says Yes to Jews Living in a Palestinian State.”

July 28, 2009 update: In an article titled “A Jewish and Non-Legitimate State.” Mordechai Kedar concludes today that

Recognition of Israel as a legitimate Jewish nation-state has no hope or chance as long as Islam perceives itself – and itself alone – as “the true religion with Allah.”

Aug. 10, 2009 update: The political editor of WAFA, the official Palestinian Authority news agency, published an article on July 27 (and reported by Palestinian Media Watch today) arguing that a Jewish state threatens all of humanity. Excerpts:

The Jewish State, or People, or Land is a synonym of the black nightmare of Racism. … The Jewish State is clear in its objectives, even implementation and application. It means eliminating 20 per cent of the Jewish entity’s citizens; Arabs and Palestinians. It probably means forcing them out; transferring them. …

A Jewish state endangers not only Palestinians, but also the Arab World, and the global security. It is a call for legitimizing a racist entity, built on pure ethnic and theocratic criteria. They apparently think that they are a race, and they want a racist state!

All of this doesn’t end with the Palestinian issue; it becomes a general [international] matter, which raises the question: Will the present international system, with its modernity and development, and after banishing the racist entities, allow the development of a theocratic regime, successor of racist regimes that have disappeared, where anyone who does not recognize it cannot live there?”

Aug. 18, 2009 update: “Did Netanyahu drop demand for recognition of Israel as ‘Jewish state’?” asks Akiva Eldar in Ha’aretz and the answer is unclear. He begins by noting the absence of mention of “the Jewish people” in an important statement by Binyamin Netanyahu on August 16. Promising not to repeat Ariel Sharon’s mistake of unilateral withdrawal in 2005, Eldar recounts, Netanyahu said

his government would strive to arrive at bilateral agreements that will include two basic elements that were missing in the case of the evacuation of Gaza. In second place: “Security arrangements, the honoring and enforcement of which will be ensured.” And in first place: “The genuine recognition of the state of Israel.” And thereafter: “If there is a turn towards peace by the more moderate Palestinians, we will insist on the following components: Recognition and genuine demilitarization will find expression in, and be integral parts of, the peace arrangements.”

“Genuine recognition of the state of Israel?” Check. “Recognition and genuine demilitarization?” Check. “The state of the Jewish people?” Nope. This is also documented in the spokesman’s statement on the prime minister’s bureau Web site.

Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s media advisor, says that no special significance should be attributed to the fact that “the Jewish people” is absent from the prime minister’s remarks. The boss is continuing to insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. His heart filled with sorrow when it it was brought to his attention that the matter was missing from his remarks at the government meeting.

However, “the Jewish people” may not have simply slipped the prime minister’s mind for no reason. Foreign diplomats have reported to their capitals that people in the prime minister’s bureau had phoned some of their colleagues to draw their attention to the striking absence from the statement. Leaders in those capitals, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, were able to note that Netanyahu had removed one of the major stumbling blocks in the path to negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Sep. 23, 2009 update: Addressing the United Nations today, Barack Obama called for the re-launch of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations

that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians; borders, refugees and Jerusalem. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security – a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.

Mar. 4, 2010 update: In “The Prerequisite for Peace in the Middle East: Arab Recognition of the Legitimacy of Israel,” out today from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Kenneth J. Bialkin emphasizes the centrality of this topic, concluding that

The US should lead the international community to correct a long-term injustice: Arab lack of respect for the legitimacy of the State of Israel and for the historical contributions and rights of the Jewish people. This is the most important prerequisite for peace.

May 10, 2010 update: I provide survey information today of Arab opinion on the idea of Jewish state at “Accepting Israel as the Jewish State.” Highlights:

26 percent of Egyptians and 9 percent of urban Saudi subjects answered (in November 2009) in the affirmative, as did 9 percent of Jordanians and 5 percent of Lebanese (in April 2010). …

weighting these responses by the size of their populations (respectively, 79, 29, 6, and 4 million) translates into an overall average of 20 percent acceptance of Israel’s Jewishness – neatly confirming the existing percentage. Although 20 percent constitutes a small minority, its consistency over time and place offers encouragement.

May 27, 2010 update: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the phrase “Jewish state” twice in remarks today:

If Israel is to remain a democratic Jewish state, then they have to come to grips with their own Arab citizens as well. And if they’re going to remain a secure, democratic Jewish state, they’ve got to come to grips with the technology that is advancing as we speak that will make every part of Israel less secure unless they have some kind of resolution.

June 10, 2010 update: JTA reports that Mahmoud Abbas met yesterday “with an array of the national Jewish leadership under the auspices of the Center for Middle East Peace” and told them what they came to hear:

Jewish leaders also pressed him on reaching out to Israelis to reassure them of Palestinian intentions. On that score, Abbas said he recognized the ancient Jewish claims to Israel, and recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that the Palestinians had an equal claim to eastern Jerusalem as their capital.

Comment: Let’s wait for Abbas to say this in Arabic in Ramallah.

Sep. 1, 2010 update: Joshua Teitelbaum, principal research fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, argues that “The recognition of the right of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland is not a new idea. It actually has long historical roots which, unfortunately, have been forgotten in much of the public discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict.” He then provides some of that background in “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People: From the San Remo Conference (1920) to the Netanyahu-Abbas Talks.” The most novel part concerns developments in the complex diplomacy of the immediate post-World War I period.

The significance of what transpired at [the conference of] San Remo on April 24-25, 1920, has not always received the attention it deserves, for in a sense, it was at San Remo that Israel was born. … The San Remo language gave detailed content to the general provisions regarding the mandate system as formulated in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations [which recognized the mandate system of “tutelage”]. The operative paragraph reads:

“The mandatory power will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on the 8th [2nd] November, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of 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.”

He then interprets this document:

The language with respect to Palestine adopted at San Remo is remarkable for several reasons. First, it established recognition by the Great Powers of the principle of Jewish national self-determination. As such, it was a triumph for Zionism, which saw a national solution to the problem of the Jews, as opposed to other proposed solutions, such as assimilation. It recognized the existence of the Jews as more than individuals who subscribed to a certain religion – Judaism – but rather as a corporate group deserving of national expression, in this case in the form of a national home. And this home was to be in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. Interestingly, the rights of the Arabs (“non-Jewish communities”) in Palestine did not include national, but only civil and religious rights.

The language is a verbatim repetition of the Balfour Declaration, with one significant change. Whereas in the Balfour Declaration, Great Britain promised to “use their best endeavours to facilitate” a Jewish national home in Palestine, at San Remo this became an operative obligation. As the mandatory power, Britain was directly charged with “putting [the Balfour Declaration] into effect.”

This document had great significance:

The language agreed upon at San Remo was, as Lord Curzon put it, “the Magna Carta of the Zionists.” It was clear at the time that the term “national home” really meant a state. Back in 1917, three months after his declaration was issued, Lord Balfour confessed: “My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish state.” U.S. intelligence recommendations drafted for President Wilson at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference had the same impression: “It will be the policy of the League of Nations to recognize Palestine as a Jewish State as soon as it is a Jewish state in fact.”

Note the multiple mentions of the “Jewish state” in the above paragraph. These agreements have lasting import:

The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine is a key document that underscores the international legitimacy of the right of Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel, or Palestine. According to Howard Grief, this can be seen in the three “recitals” occurring in the Preamble. … perhaps the most important recital in the Preamble recalls and notes that “recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine”; it further stresses that this was “grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Teitelbaum ends this account noting the irony of what transpired:

It should be clear from the above that Jewish self-determination was part of a process that ended up decolonizing the Middle East, if not entirely by design. This effort led to Jewish as well as Arab independence. Repeated recent associations of Israel with colonialism – an ahistorical canard that erases the millennia-long association of Jews with the Land of Israel as an indigenous people – ignores the benefit (even if ironic) that Zionism actually brought to the Arabs through the process of decolonization.

Sep. 8, 2009 update: Mahmoud Abbas has reiterated his rejection of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. “We’re not talking about a Jewish state and we won’t talk about one. For us, there is the state of Israel and we won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state. I told them that this is their business and that they are free to call themselves whatever they want. But [I told them] you can’t expect us to accept this.” Abbas added that raising this issue amounts to “stripping” Israeli-Arabs of their rights and turn them into illegal citizens.

Oct. 5, 2010 update: Yaacov Lozowick, Israel’s chief archivist, writes in his book Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel’s Wars, p. 268 how the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state was first inserted into negotiations by Israeli leftists:

In July 2001, 9 months into the Jerusalem Intifada and four months into the government of Ariel Sharon, a group of some two dozen intellectuals from both sides convened to build a bridge over the ruins of peace. … Their idea was simple: to agree on a joint declaration calling on the warring factions to desist from their insanity and return to negotiations. The peaceniks would join hands, and with their moral authority embarrass the politicians back to sanity.

The Palestinians were willing to join in stating that there should be two independent states alongside one another, but the Israelis, alerted by the fiascos of Camp David and Taba to a nuance they had previously overlooked, demanded that the statement clearly say that Israel would be a Jewish State and Palestine an Arab one. The Palestinians refused. Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state. They were welcome to live in Israel, but the Palestinian refugees would come back, and perhaps she would cease to be a Jewish State.

Oct. 6, 2010 update: Mahmoud Abbas changes his tune when speaking to American Jewish leaders assembled in Washington, writes Natasha Mozgovaya in Ha’aretz: “I would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel.”

Oct. 7, 2010 update: Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday added the phrase “a Jewish and democratic state” to the loyalty oath taken by those aspiring to become Israeli citizens: “I promise to honor the laws of the State.” He explained his purpose:

The State of Israel the national state of the Jewish People. This principle guides Government policy, both foreign and domestic, and is a foundation of Israeli law. This principle finds expression in the phrase “a Jewish and democratic State.” It is fitting that this principle should also appear in the loyalty oath taken by those seeking to become naturalized Israeli citizens. Israel is the Jewish national state in its nature, Government, symbols, holidays and language, and it is proper that it be so in its citizenship law as well. Israel is a democratic state that gives full civil equality to all its citizens. We uphold this in our foreign and domestic policy, and in the peace negotiations.

Oct. 12, 2010 update: It’s comical when a spokesman does not know what to say about an issue. An illustration of this came today when the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, was asked “Is the U.S. want[ing] the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?” Here, as officially transcribed, is the unedited reply:

We have, you know, recognized the—the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well.

But, you know, this is the aspiration of the—you know, what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is in essence, you know, the—the—a core demand of the Israeli government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. And that is what they want to see through this negotiation. 

We understand, you know, this aspiration. And the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that, you know, just as they aspire to a state, you know, for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own now.

So the prime minister has put forward his ideas on what he believes his people need to hear so that they can—they can make the commitment that we’re seeking to stay in this process and to reach a successful conclusion.

This is not—this is not a one-way street; it is a two-way street. You know, the prime minister is offering something and asking for something. It is perfectly within the rights of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas to say, you know, “There’s something I need and there’s something I’m willing to give.”

This is—this is the essence of the negotiation that is ongoing and the essence of the negotiation that we want to see continue.

Nov. 28, 2010 update: The Fatah Revolutionary Council concluded its fifth convention in Ramallah with a stout refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state: “The council affirms its rejection of the so-called Jewish state or any other formula that could achieve this goal. The council also renews its refusal for the establishment of any racist state based on religion in accordance with international law and human rights conventions.”

Dec. 16, 2010 update: According to a poll of 600 Arab citizens of Israel conducted by the University of Maryland and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy,

Almost 50% of Israeli Arabs said they would not accept Israel as a Jewish state “under any conditions.” Another 32% said they would accept Israel as Jewish only if a PA state were established.

Feb. 1, 2011 update: Tal Becker has written the first study of this topic, The Claim for Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State: A Reassessment, a 26-page analysis with appendices, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He comes down squarely demanding Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state:

obfuscating or circumventing the recog­nition issue will be seen by many as failing to draw the parties toward the genuine and permanent recon­ciliation that a two-state solution aspires to represent, and may fail to attract the public support, particu­larly on the Israeli side, necessary to make an agree­ment politically feasible.

Mar. 23, 2011 update: The spring 2011 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies contains an article by Raef Zreik, “Why the Jewish State Now?” that presents, from Palestinian Authority point of view, the reasons for the new Israeli emphasis on a Jewish state. Needless to say, they differ from the reasons offered by me.

Apr. 19, 2011 update: Prime Minister Netanyahu has reiterated that

the core of the conflict has always been the persistent refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize the Jewish state in any borders. That is why this conflict raged for nearly 50 years before 1967, before there was a single settlement in the West Bank. … Why don’t the Palestinians do something so simple as recognizing the Jewish state? After all, we are prepared to recognize a Palestinian state. Why can’t they reciprocate if they really want peace?

May 19, 2011 update: In a major speech on the Middle East, “Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa,” Barack Obama referred twice to a “Jewish state.”

  • “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”
  • “a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”

May 22, 2011 update: In a second major speech in three days, this one focused on Israel, “Remarks by the President at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011,” Obama used the term “Jewish state” no less than five times:

  • “as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland for the Jewish people.”
  • “the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.”
  • “The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”
  • “Ultimately, it is the right and the responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed.”
  • “a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

May 23, 2011 update: In his speech to AIPAC, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu put great emphasis on the need for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state:

We want peace because we know the blessings peace could bring – what it could bring to us and to our Palestinian neighbors. But if we hope to advance peace with the Palestinians, then it’s time that we admitted another truth. This conflict has raged for nearly a century because the Palestinians refuse to end it. They refuse to accept the Jewish state. Now, this is what this conflict has always been about. There are many issues linked to this conflict that must be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians. We can, we must, resolve them. But I repeat: We can only make peace with the Palestinians if they’re prepared to make peace with the Jewish State.

May 23, 2011 bis update:The Palestinian Authority again rejected recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Associated Press reports Nabil Shaath saying that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist, without any reference to its character, should suffice: “We recognize Israel as a state. It’s a recognition of a state to a state.”

May 25, 2011 update: A poll of American Jews by Luntz Global on behalf of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) finds that 90 percent of respondents find Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state to be “necessary” for a peace agreement to follow.

May 30, 2011 update: Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister for strategic affairs, picked up on Netanyahu’s mention of the Jewish state and placed great emphasis on it in an oped for Yedi’ot Aharonot. Excerpts:

The key sentence in the prime minister’s speech before Congress made it clear that the main reason for the failure of all attempts to secure Israel-Palestinian peace is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State; that is, to recognize the Jewish people’s right to maintain a Jewish nation-state, the State of Israel, on the land of its forefathers.

Israel’s Palestinian dialogue partner in peace talks is the PLO; all members of this umbrella organization, including Fatah, reject Israel’s right to exist, while accepting it (because of the IDF’s military power) on the condition that it would be an entity that lacks an ethnic identity – that is, that it will not be the Jewish people’s nation-state. …

The heart of the conflict with the Palestinians is existential and not just territorial, as proven by Nakba Day events and as the prime minister made clear in his speech. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the occupation started in 1948 and not in 1967. Hence, Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state is a required condition for viable peace with the Palestinians.

June 23, 2011 update: The the Journal of Palestine Studies, edited by Rashid Khalidi, cannot get enough of this topic. The spring 2011 issue ran an article on “Why the Jewish State Now?” and now the summer issue published Ahmad Samih Khalidi’s “Why Can’t the Palestinians Recognize the Jewish State?” It presents “the moral and practical reasons” why they “cannot accede to this demand, or even accept Israel’s self-definition as a matter of exclusive Israeli concern.”

July 13, 2011 update: Nabil Shaath is unequivocal in rejecting the Jewish state concept:

[The French initiative] reshaped the issue of the “Jewish state” into a formula that is also unacceptable to us – two states for two peoples. They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative. We will not sacrifice the 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who live within the 1948 borders, and we will never agree to a clause preventing the Palestinian refugees from returning to their country. We will not accept this.

Aug. 28, 2011 update: Mahmoud Abbas told the powers to back off: “Don’t order us to recognize a Jewish state. We won’t accept it.”

Sep. 2, 2011 update: Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of Adalah, an Israeli-Arab organization explains today “Why Palestinians can’t recognize a ‘Jewish state’.”

For the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is to declare their surrender, meaning, to waive their group dignity by negating their historical narrative and national identity. … we would accept the rationale of the [Jewish] Law of Return, and as a result, we would waive our right to return, even in principle.

Sep. 30, 2011 update: Sari Nusseibeh sent a letter in 2008 I quote above claiming that ” we already recognized Israel as a Jewish State by recognizing UN Resolution 181 [of 1947]. Fine, but today he explains “Why Israel can’t be a ‘Jewish State'” for, arguing that “the idea of a ‘Jewish State’ is logically and morally problematic because of its legal, religious, historical and social implications.”

  • What about ethnic Jews who are atheists?
  • The modern nation-state is a temporal and civic institution that cannot be religiously homogenous. Anyway, 20 per cent of the Israeli population is Muslim, Christian, Druze or Baha’i.
  • It implies that Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy or an apartheid state or both, ending Israel’s democracy.
  • It disenfranchises Palestinians while enfranchising Jews living outside Israel.
  • 7 million Palestinians in the diaspora would give up their rights to repatriation or compensation.
  • It ignores the fact that “Jerusalem is as holy to 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims, as it is to 15-20 million Jews worldwide.”
  • The Bible’s “sword verses” mean that Palestinians justifiably feel “a little trepidation” as regards what a “Jewish State” means for them, so “recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ in Israel is not the same as, say, recognition of Greece today as a “Christian State.”

Nusesibeh offers advice to Israelis: “ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish,” calling this “a reasonable demand.”

Comment: Make up your mind, Sari, did the Palestinians accept a Jewish state in 1947 or are you resisting this idea now?

Oct. 11, 2011 update: Efraim Karsh, my colleague at the Middle East Forum, replies to Nusseibeh today in the Jerusalem Post, noting that “the supposedly moderate president of al-Quds University goes to great lengths to explain why Jews, unlike any other nation on earth, are undeserving of statehood.”

Nusseibeh claims that a Jewish state must by definition be either a theocracy or an apartheid state, and that its Jewish nature opens the door to legally reducing its substantial non-Jewish minority … “to second-class citizens (or perhaps even stripping them of their citizenship and other rights).” This … flies in the face of Israel’s 63-year history, where Arabs have enjoyed full equality before the law, and have been endowed with the full spectrum of democratic rights – including the right to vote for and serve in all state institutions.

In fact, from the designation of Arabic as an official language, to the recognition of non-Jewish religious holidays as legal resting days for their respective communities, to the granting of educational, cultural, judicial, and religious autonomy, Arabs in Israel enjoy more formal prerogatives than ethnic minorities anywhere in the democratic world. …

instead of insisting on being accepted for what it has been for 63 years, or what the UN partition resolution envisaged it to be, Israel should shed its Jewish identity and become “a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism” like many of its Arab neighbors which have Islam as their official religion “but grant equal civil rights to all citizens.”

This of course is the complete inverse of the truth.

The Jewish state is a civil, democratic and pluralistic society, something that none of its Arab neighbors can stake a claim to. On the contrary, precisely because Islam is enshrined as state religion throughout the Middle East, the non-Muslim minorities have been denied “equal civil rights” and have instead been reduced to the historic dhimmi status whereby they can at best enjoy certain religious freedoms in return for a distinctly inferior existence, and at worst suffer from systematic persecution and oppression.

And this is the “one-state paradigm” offered by Nusseibeh to Israel’s Jewish citizens.

Nov. 1, 2011 update: In an important 9-page article, “The Problem Is Palestinian Rejectionism: Why the PA Must Recognize a Jewish State,” Yosef Kuperwasser and Shalom Lipner, both high-ranking officials in the Israeli government, argue in Foreign Affairs that

The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state stands at the root of the struggle and behind every so-called core issue, from determining borders to resolving the dispute over Palestinian refugees. Genuine reconciliation can be achieved, then, only once the Palestinians come to terms with Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

Feb. 13, 2012 update: In an major statement, addressing Arab League foreign ministers, Mahmoud Abbas restated the position that Palestinians will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state while adding two new elements, as reported by Israel Hayom: “were the Palestinians to agree to this requirement, Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to Israel as part of a future agreement, and some million and a half Arab citizens of Israel would have little say in shaping the country’s affairs.” Actually, Abbas used stronger language than this report suggests, stating that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would render its Arab citizens “worthless” (la-qima).

Feb. 27, 2012 update: Well, one prominent Israeli takes the Palestinian side on this issue; former Mossad head Efraim Halevy says that any agreement signed with Israel is tantamount to recognition, meaning the government need not insist on Palestinians overtly recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. “Our Jewishness does not depend on [those who reject this].”

Mar. 20, 2013 update: (1) On arriving in Israel, Barack Obama said:

More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history. Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.”

Comments: This is a particularly emotional statement about Israel as the Jewish state; compare it to George W. Bush’s remarks on landing in Israel on Jan. 9, 2008, quoted above: “the alliance between our two nations helps guarantee Israel’s security as a Jewish state.”

(2) Ron DeSantis (Republican of Florida) today introduced “The Palestinian Accountability Act” which cuts the nearly $500 million yearly in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it, among other steps, formally “recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” The bill’s cosponsors include three other Republicans: Steve King (Iowa), Sam Johnson (Texas), and Joe Pitts (Pennsylvania).

Mar. 21, 2013 update: Obama twice mentioned “Jewish state” in his major public address while in Israel, posted at the White House website as “President Obama Speaks to the People of Israel.” The first was somewhat routine:

You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected the right of your nation to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all that they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state.

The second was quite extraordinary because it came in one of the key passages of the speech and for the first time established a U.S. government demand for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state:

Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn.


(1) This statement is not entirely new, as Obama endorsed the Jewish state idea before. He did so as a candidate for president on May 12, 2008 (see above): “the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.” Again, at the United Nations on Sep. 23, 2009: “The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security – a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” In May 2011, Obama mentioned Israel as a Jewish state no less than seven times in two speeches, including three statements similar to the one today:

  • “a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”
  • “The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”
  • “a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Finally, Obama mentioned the Jewish state again only yesterday, on his arrival in Israel. Also, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the term on May 27, 2010.

(2) But neither Obama nor any other American official ever before required the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This breaks important new ground.

(3) Until now, the Obama administration had shied away from endorsing the need for Palestinians having to accept Israel as a Jewish state. George Mitchell, Obama’s first special envoy to the Middle East, indicated this on Apr. 19, 2009. The State Department spokesman avoided the question as best he could on Oct. 12, 2010.

Mar. 26, 2013 update: I make the Jewish state issue the topic of a column at “Obama to Palestinians: Accept the Jewish State.”

May 2, 2013 update: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t about territory, but rather the very existence of a Jewish state,” once again putting the emphasis on recognition of the “Jewish state” aspect.

July 20, 2013 update: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced an Israeli and Palestinian Authority agreement to meet for talks on the very odd basis that he would send out invitations giving each side what it specifically most wants without implying that the other side concedes the point. What the Israelis want is recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Here is how the New York Times puts it:

The formula Mr. Kerry negotiated, officials said, involves the United States’ making a declaration about the borders and settlements, and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, that Mr. Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority can distance themselves from while still negotiating.

Comment: More than anything else, this priority formalizes the importance of the Jewish state concept to the current government. It also symbolizes, given wall-to-wall Palestinian opposition to this concession, the near-impossibility of those negotiations achieving anything.

Aug. 12, 2013 update: One prominent Israeli institution rejects the “Jewish state” formulation, at least for mixed company. That would be the Peres Center for Peace, which nixed a theatrical play for children, Snow Ball, because of a line in it stating that “the state of Israel is the national home of all Jews.” A letter from Dvir Zivan, manager of the Peres Center’s Sports Department, explained:

We would be happy to bring all the Jewish children to the play, but there is a problem. We do not do activities intended for one nationality only. It is hard for us to bring Palestinian children to a play that uses the words “Jewish state.” Unfortunately, we will be unable to cooperate on this venture.

The director of Snow Ball, Roy Horovitz responded: “It’s sad to discover that in a center that carries the name of the president of the state of Israel, there are those who believe that identifying Israel as the Jewish state is a problematic statement that is not part of the consensus.”

August 20, 2013 update: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at a press conference with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “We have to get to the root cause of the [Arab-Israeli] problem and the root cause was and remains the persistent refusal to recognize the Jewish State in any boundary. It doesn’t have to do with the settlements – that’s an issue that has to be resolved, but this is not the reason that we have a continual conflict.”

Oct. 6, 2013 update: In a speech at a conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (known as BESA; coincidentally, I am also addressing this conference), Binyamin Netanyahu talked at length on the need for Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. The text, as translated from Hebrew by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

when they are asked … are you ready finally to recognize the Jewish state? They answer: “We are prepared to recognize the Israeli people; we are ready to recognize Israel.” I say, that is not the question I am asking: “Are you prepared to recognize the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people?” And the answer so far has been “No.” Why not? … Why are you not willing to recognize the Jewish state?

We are willing to recognize your nation state, and that is at great cost – it involves territories, our ancestral lands, which is not insignificant. And I say this as well – this is a very difficult thing. But you need to make a series of concessions too and the first concession is to give up your dream of the right of return. We will not be satisfied with recognition of the Israeli people or of some kind of binational state which will later be flooded by refugees.

This is the nation state of the Jewish people. If they want, Jews immigrate to this country. Palestinian Arabs, if they want, will go there[, to the Palestinian state]. Recognize the Jewish state. As long as you refuse to do so, there will never be peace. Recognize our right to live here in our own sovereign state, our nation state – only then will peace be possible.

Oct. 1, 2013 update: Lahav Harkov, parliamentary reporter for the Jerusalem Post, looks at the Jewish state concept in Israeli law and finds that it “surprisingly tenuous.” She writes in “Making the Jewish State a ‘Jewish State’

Its collection of 11 Basic Laws, which were intended as a blueprint for an eventual constitution, contains no definition of Israel as a Jewish state. … At the moment, in fact, there are no laws truly cementing Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

And while Israel “has prospered for almost 65 years without a law declaring it a Jewish state,” she finds the time has come:

today, the absence of a legal architecture ensuring Jewish statehood is also a potential threat to the Zionist project itself. With campaigns to delegitimize Israel on the rise both inside and outside the country, and with a surging trend of anti-Zionist and post-Zionist thought among the Israeli left, the idea of fashioning and passing a Jewish state law has become a matter of urgency to many. For Israel to thrive uniquely as a Jewish democracy, its institutions and laws must ensure that its democratic nature is never brought into irresolvable conflict with its Jewish identity. And without a Jewish-state law, Israel’s unfortunately overactive judiciary could issue decisions that would chip away at the country’s Jewish character. The prospect of such a crisis is all too real.

Harkov provides an example of this danger, the 2000 Kaadan case, when “the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that an Arab family must be permitted to live in Katzir, a cooperative town, even though the government had leased the land on which Katzir was built to the Jewish Agency, a private organization that is not an arm of the government and is designed, by its very definition, to aid Jewish people.”

She then details the 2011 effort by Avi Dichter of the Kadima Party to pass a bill titled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People” that declared, among other articles:

the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People where they realize their aspiration for self-determination according to their cultural and historical legacy.


the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.

That bill came under criticism from the Left, which focused on the status of the Arabic language, and it ultimately failed. In June 2013, Knesset members Ruth Calderon and the trio of Yariv Levin, Ayelet Shaked, and Robert Ilatov each submitted bills. Harkov expresses doubts about the Calderon one and endorses that of the trio. But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni vetoed the bill in late June. Realizing her vulnerability on this score, Livni in August appointed Ruth Gavison of Hebrew University, to try her hand at a new bill. The results are now awaited.

Oct. 9, 2013 update: Finance Minister Yair Lapid disagrees with the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. “I don’t feel we need a declaration from the Palestinians that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” Lapid said. “My father didn’t come to Haifa from the Budapest ghetto in order to get recognition from Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]. The whole concept, to me, of the State of Israel is that we recognize ourselves, that after 2,000 years of being dependent on other people, we are now independent and we make our own rules.”

Comment: This statement recalls what Menachem Begin said about not needing Arab acceptance of Israel, something I documented sympathetically but critically at “Israel Does Not Need Palestinian Recognition?

Oct. 13, 2013 update: Ben Cohen of endorses the demand for recognition of the Jewish state:

however much we might appreciate Lapid’s healthy dismissal of the opinions of those who deny the legitimacy of Jewish national aspirations, it is precisely because of those same aspirations that his argument is dangerously flawed.

When you study what others call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what I prefer to call the Palestinian war against Israel’s legitimacy, it should be painfully apparent that it is the intangible aspects of this long dispute that have confounded a final agreement, and not the tangible ones.

What I mean is this: if this dispute were solely about sharing a territory, equitable distribution of water rights, common security arrangements, and so forth, we might well have arrived at a resolution by now. … what nags in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the rejection by the Palestinian side of the entire Zionist enterprise. Regardless of whether they are sitting at the table with Israeli negotiators, or gallivanting around the U.N. demanding unilateral recognition, the essential Palestinian message has, for more than a century, been that the Jews really have no right to be here in the first place. …

Netanyahu’s unwavering stance on the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character should be welcomed as a gesture of peace, not an excuse to perpetuate the status quo. Peace is only possible if the Palestinians revise the historical narrative that currently leads them to denigrate Israel as the “Zionist entity.”

Oct. 14, 2013 update: The distinguished Israeli diplomat Zalman Shoval responds to Lapid, arguing against negotiations with the Palestinians unless they recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Excerpts:

The real reason that Palestinians deny the national Jewish identity of Israel stems from Arab and Muslim unwillingness, in principle, to recognize the existence of a Jewish nation (distinct from the religion). If the Jews do not comprise a nation, then they are undeserving of their own nation state, they conclude. …

In other words, Arab Muslims say they are ready to recognize the state of Israel, albeit reluctantly, as a temporary refuge for the Jews that live here, but they are not willing to recognize the permanence of this entity.

Also, delegitimizing Israel or recognizing the Holocaust exclusively as an argument for the establishment of the Jewish state while ignoring Jewish history and the Zionist enterprise—whether out of good intentions or maliciously—runs parallel with the Palestinian strategy of characterizing the Jewish state as a temporary, Crusader state. …

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Palestinians needed to recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, he did not do it to thwart peace talks. He said it to ensure that any peace achieved through negotiations is a lasting peace, not just a phase in the piecemeal destruction of Israel. Whoever actually wants to give peace a chance should, rather than speaking in phrases or seeking favor with some external party, stand behind Netanyahu’s fundamental principle: Recognize and ye shall receive—fail to recognize, end up with nothing.

Oct. 25, 2013 update: A former Palestinian negotiator, Nabeel Kassis, argues today “Why Palestinians Should Not Recognize Israel as Jewish State.” He presents this Israeli demand as over the top:

Putting demands on the Palestinians that are tantamount to asking them to accept Zionist credos cannot be taken seriously. A case in point is the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Despite the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized the state of Israel for more than 20 years — with no reciprocal recognition by Israel of the state of Palestine — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now added the issue of recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” as a precondition for any agreement. He is the first Israeli prime minister to make such a demand, and it has largely been recognized for what it is — an attempt to undermine the negotiations and ensure that no agreement is reached.

Factual correction: As any reader of this blog knows, it was Ehud Olmert, not Binyamin Netanyahu, who made this demand.

this demand is discriminatory in that it concedes to all Jews, exclusively, an innate right to be in Palestine, whereupon Palestinians who live in Palestine do so only by permission of “the Jewish state” and not as an innate right. In fact, by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinians would be stating that their presence in Palestine has been illegitimate all along. Of course, this is out of the question, and Palestinians cannot accept it. …

Because Palestinians cannot and will not undermine their own cause, they cannot and should not recognize Israel except as a state of its people, and its people are not all Jews. In fact, 25% of the current population of Israel is non-Jewish. This is another reason why the Palestinians cannot recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but also why whoever calls for such should be called to task.

Kassis then ambitiously tries to explain away the founding document of Israel’s existence:

Some may argue that UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, the Partition Plan, called for the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state. This, however, was a different sort of state than the one that Netanyahu wants recognized. Resolution 181 on partition with economic union sought to resolve communal strife. Thus, the United Nations decided to create two separate states for the Palestinians — one for Palestinian Jews (and not exclusively Jewish in terms of its inhabitants) and one for Arab Palestinians (which would have included a small Jewish community). What Netanyahu is insisting on today is very different, so it is disingenuous to use Resolution 181 as the basis for legitimizing this demand. Indeed, a state for Palestinian Jews is not the same as a state for the Jews of the world.

He ends on the offense:

Instead of asking Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it is Israel that should be called upon to recognize the state of Palestine and to withdraw completely from all the territory that it occupied with the force of arms in 1967. This would be a more meaningful demand from those interested in the success of the present negotiations.

Dec. 13, 2013 update: Palestinian Authority unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state could mess up the U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel. Agence France Press reports that Mahmoud Abbas gave Secretary of State John Kerry a letter detailing “Palestinian red lines,” with an emphasis on the PA’s “refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

Dec. 16, 2013 update: Efraim Inbar responds today to the above news about Abbas rejecting Kerry’s proposals by putting the Palestinian reluctance to recognize Israel as a Jewish state into context:

This “red line” is not just about semantics, but the essence of the conflict. The Palestinian position amounts to denying the Jews the right to establish their state in their homeland. It also indicates without any doubt that the Palestinians, despite the conventional wisdom, are not ripe for reaching a historic compromise with Zionism, the Jewish national revival movement. A stable peace based on mutual recognition and ending all demands is not in the cards. The weak PA seems to accept partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states (perhaps in accordance with the stages approach championed by the Palestine Liberation Organization), but it still refrains from accepting the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.

Inbar then makes an important point about the Palestinian insistence on words:

Despite the image of untrustworthiness, Palestinians give great importance to the language used in the documents they are asked to sign. Yasser Arafat, generally viewed by most Israelis as an accomplished liar, refused to sign an agreement in 2000 that included a clause about an end to all demands. For him the conflict could end only by the eventual demise of Israel. Similarly, Abbas cannot bring himself to put his signature to a document which says that the Jews have returned to their homeland.

He does expect change any time soon:

Discussing Jewish rights to the Land of Israel is not conceivable in the current intra-Palestinian deliberations. Not even the so-called Palestinian moderates are calling for a debate among the Palestinians on whether to recognize the right of self-determination of the Jews in their historic homeland. Polls of Palestinians do not ask whether Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state.

Inbar notes that “It was a mistake not to insist on recognition of Israel being a Jewish state in the negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s” and offers another reason for this lapse: “Palestinians are different than Egyptians or Jordanians that were not required to accept Israel as a Jewish state. They have no claims to Palestine, while it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who fight for the same piece of land.”

Jan. 4, 2014 update: Saeb Erekat has revealed the contents of a letter Mahmoud Abbas sent Barack Obama on Dec. 8, 2013, reports Avi Issacharoff, in which he laid down four preconditions in negotiations with Israel that “he would not be able to accept as a Palestinian, as a people, as the PLO.” “Firstly, we will not be able to accept Israel as a Jewish state.” The other three concern Jerusalem, Israeli security forces in the West Bank, and the “right of return.”

Comment: (1) Putting the Jewish state issue first again underscores the Palestinians’s refusal to countenance this Israeli demand. In brief, they want to keep open the goal of turning Israel into a Muslim state. (2) If these demands be accurate portrayal of the Palestinian Authority’s position, they doom the current John-Kerry-sponsored round of diplomacy.

Jan. 7, 2014 update: Avi Issacharoff reports in the Times of Israel that John Kerry reportedly is

exploring the possibility of altering language in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to include recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. … The changed language, which would insert a key Israeli demand into the 2002 Saudi-drafted Arab Peace Initiative, would also include the stipulation that Israel’s Arab citizens not be affected by recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The initiative’s current language calls for the Arab world to offer comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a full pullout from all territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Jan. 10, 2014 update: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has denied reports that Kerry has asked the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to agree to alter the “Arab League peace initiative” of 2002 to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, thereby easing the way for Palestinians to do the same: “It would not be accurate to say there was an attempt to change the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Asked if the Obama administration wants Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, she replied, “We want to see them support, which they’ve indicated they would, a final-status agreement between the parties. What is included in there is not yet determined.” Psaki refused to answer whether Kerry has pressed the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Jan. 11, 2014 update: In a speech today, Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something John Kerry is expected to demand of him. “We will not recognize it. We will not accept and it’s our right not to recognize the Jewish state.”

Jan. 13, 2014 update: The Palestinian Authority foreign affairs director, Riyad Al-Maliki, reports that, at a fifth meeting between John Kerry and Arab League’s Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee, the foreign ministers told him that they refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state. The meeting took place on Jan. 12 at the residence of the American ambassador in Paris and included nine Arab ministers. According to Maliki: “A clear and unified Arab and Palestinian position was presented rejecting the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The American secretary heard this position from me and from other Arab foreign ministers.”

Jan. 15, 2014 update: The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram has published one “Ahmed Al-Sayed from Gaza” who makes these points against Israel’s demand to be recognized as the Jewish state:

Palestinians, both government and opposition, have dug in their heels, and they are not making a secret of their shock that this condition — which was never part of any Arab-Israeli talks in the past — has been brought to the negotiating table. …

This is not a question of semantics, as the Palestinians point out. If they recognise the Jewishness of the State of Israel, then their entire struggle for their lost land would be de-legitimised. Some say that it may give the Israelis the right to demand reparations from Arab countries, not vice versa.

Recognising the Jewishness of Israel will mean that Palestinian refugees will lose their right to return. Israeli Arabs, now totalling 1.7 million, will be at risk of extradition, as Mohamed Ashtiya, a Fatah Central Committee member, pointed out. “No Palestinian can recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This whole thing is a religious claim with political implications,” he remarked. … The Palestinians, he added, are not prepared to abandon the Muslim and Christian interpretation of the Bible in favour of Israel’s views.

Muslim interpretation of the Bible? That’s a new one.

Al-Sayed also reports some news: according to Palestinian sources, when Kerry visited Jordan and Saudi Arabia, he “tried to convince officials in both countries of the Jewishness of Israel.”

Comment: “The Jewish State of Israel” is a formulation rarely used by politicians; Barack Obama, perhaps surprisingly, is the one who has used it repeatedly, as can be seen by a search through this page.

Jan. 16, 2014 update: Netanyahu spoke to Canada’s CTV News about Israel’s Arab citizens:

We’re not asking them to change their religion and they have full civic rights. Arab citizens of Israel serve in the Knesset, our parliament, they serve in the government, they serve on the Supreme Court. It’s full civic equality. But what we say is that this state, with its flag, with its symbols, its national holidays and the ability to accept Jews from around the world – that’s the nation-state of the Jewish people, with full civic rights to those who are non-Jews.

He then explained the centrality of the Jewish state issue, calling it “perhaps the pivot to the whole debate”:

when we say we want peace, what we want is really for our Palestinian neighbours to have a demilitarized state next to us that recognizes the Jewish State. We’re willing to recognize their state, the Palestinian state. But we ask them to recognize the Jewish state. The last thing we want to do is just walk out and have them use that, the Palestinian state to attack what remains of Israel. So I think this is perhaps the pivot to the whole debate… will the Palestinians, as part of peace, recognize the Jewish state as Israel is willing to recognize the Palestinian state. I hope they do. If they do, it’ll afford a better future for us and their children.

Jan. 20, 2014 update: On a single day, reports came out on prominent figures who made important and diametrically opposite statements on the Jewish state issue.

(1) Traian Basescu, the president of Romanian, replied in an interview two days before a visit to Israel that “we’ll always support the idea that if the Israelis want to be declared as a Jewish state, they must be recognized [as such].”

(2) Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper used his address to the Israeli parliament not just to deliver an impassioned speech explaining his Israel-friendly policies but to hammer home the theme of a Jewish state:


  • “support today for the Jewish State of Israel is more than a moral imperative. “It is also a matter of strategic importance, also a matter of our own, long-term interests.”
  • “we either stand up for our values and our interests here in Israel, stand up for the existence of a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state, or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin.”
  • “we share with Israel a sincere hope that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a viable, democratic Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish State of Israel.”
  • “Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel. Our view that Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.”
  • “I understand that in the world of diplomacy, with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy to go along to get along and single out Israel. But such going along to get along, is not a balanced approach, nor a sophisticated one. It is just, quite simply, weak and wrong.”
  • “People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East.”
  • “criticism of Israeli government policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-Semitic. But what else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to exist, to defend itself while systematically ignoring or excusing the violence and oppression all around it?”

Comment: There is no head of government anywhere in the world who stands up for Israel as does Stephen Harper. Arguably, there has never has been one.

(3) Riyad Al-Maliki, the so-called Palestinian foreign minister, is unequivocal about never recognizing Israel as the Jewish state. Answering a question about what has been achieved in the Kerry round of negotiations, Maliki replies:


what is new is that at the latest round of negotiations the Israeli prime minister added additional conditions that have complicated things, such as recognizing the Jewish nature of the state. This had never been raised before during Israel’s presence in the Jordan Valley. … Israel has asked us to recognize the Jewish identity of the state. I do not see any solution to this issue because it is something we will never accept.

Asked which issue is the most intractable in the negotiations, Maliki replied:

the issue of recognizing the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. This is a sharply contentious issue. It would be dangerous to recognize this because this would mean our acceptance of the dissolution of our own history and ties and our historic right to Palestine. This is something that we will never accept under any circumstances. Acceptance of this would also raise fears about the fate of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Israel. They are already second-class citizens, so how will they be affected by the Judaization of the state? This also raises questions about the [Palestinian] refugees and the right of return. So this is something that we absolutely cannot accept.

Comments: (1) Unless the Israelis or Palestinians are bluffing, which seems highly unlikely, the Jewish-state issue looks to be a deal-breaker. (2) It is remarkable how quickly this has risen from insignificance to centrality since 2007.

(4) Nabil Shaath, Fatah’s commissioner for external relations, told members of the foreign press on Jan. 16, reports Amira Hass of Ha’aretz today, that

Mr. Netanyahu can really go with pride to his people and say – “You see? I tricked those damn Palestinians and now instead of talking about refugees, and a capital in East Jerusalem, and full withdrawal to the borders of 1967, and rights in water and their security requirements as well as ours, I now convinced the world that the agenda is composed of two items and two items only: recognition of the Jewish character of the state and recognizing the security needs of Israel in the Jordan valley.” These are the two issues that are occupying most of the time of Mr. Kerry and the press and international community.

Hass paraphrases Shaath on the background to the demand for recognition of Israel’s Jewish character: it

was not included in past talks, official and otherwise, or in any of the signed documents and agreements between the two sides. This demand was also never raised with the Jordanians or Egyptians when those peace accords were forged.

In particular, Oslo’s Declaration of Principles does not mention the Jewish state. Nor did Netanyahu raise the issue during his first term as prime minister, 1996-99. It was first brought up in 2010, claims Shaath. (That is utter nonsense: see the entries above starting with the one of Nov. 29, 2007.)

Shaath also harks back to the racial purity argument, ignoring the many statements by Palestinian leaders that no Jews will be allowed in a Palestinian state:

No country in Europe today has a totality of exclusive race or exclusive ethnic origin or religion or past,” said Shaath. “It would be very embarrassing for a Jewish American today to see us recognize the United States as a WASP state, or a white state, or an Anglo-Saxon, Christian state.

He also gave other reasons for the refusal to recognize Israel’s Jewish nature:

At the least, such a demand implies the marginalization as a second-class citizen of anyone who is not a Jew. It could pave the way for legally sanctioned discrimination against any citizen who is not a Jew, and it essentially asks the PLO to abandon the Palestinian citizens of Israel to an unknown fate of abuse and discrimination. Recognizing Israel’s Jewishness would require the Palestinians to erase their narrative – their history and that of the country as experienced by them. As has been explained in the media, the demand for the recognition of Israel’s Jewishness entails the demand that the Palestinians cede the right of return.

Jan. 21, 2014 update: At a press conference with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Netanyahu stated: “To have genuine peace between us and the Palestinians, there must be a Palestinian acceptance finally of a nation state for the Jewish people. If the Palestinians expect me and my people to recognize a nation state for the Palestinian people, surely we can expect them to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. After all, we’ve only been here four millennia..”

Jan. 22, 2014 updates: (1) Israel’s President Shimon Peres publicly does not contradict his prime minister’s position that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state; his own formulation is that Israel is a Jewish country. In private conversations with diplomatic and political officials, however, Israel Hayom reports, he calls Netanyahu’s insistence on this an impediment to peace and insists it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians without this demand.

(2) In a commentary at Israel Hayom on Peres’ remarks, Dan Margalit argues that fringe leftists “have focused their efforts on countering Israel’s opening gambits in the peace talks with the Palestinians. Their immediate goal is to erode Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on having the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state.” Margalit focuses his ire on Peres, calling his dissent on the Jewish state issue “just scandalous.”

He then plays out the implications of Arab acceptance of this demand: By agreeing to the phrase “Jewish state”

the Arabs would essentially agree to make no further claims. They will have withdrawn their demand for the “right of return” for Palestinians whose families left Israel-proper after 1947. So what’s wrong in making that demand? Is there anything delusional about it?

Margalit draws an analogy:

When a Palestinian state is founded, Israel might claim that the new entity is just an autonomous region that lies west of the Jordan River and is controlled by the Arabs of the Land of Israel. So here is where the solution lies: Israel will not be called a Jewish state; Palestine will be just one of the districts of the Land of Israel where Arabic happens to be the official language.


If the Palestinians insist on having an Arabs-only state, Israel has every right to preserve its predominantly Jewish identity. The Palestinian rejectionism should set off many alarm bells.

(3) Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, says of this issue:

I don’t think we have any clear position on that because we’re not 100% sure what is meant by this concept of a Jewish state. If, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said the other day, according to the press, it’s a state in which Jews and Arabs and Druze are living [together with full equal rights] — I think this is Israel as we know [it] now. So if you’re asking why we’re not supporting that [demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state], it’s mostly because… it’s not really clear what is meant.

Asked why the EU does not take a position on an issue the Israeli side considers a prerequisite to any peace agreement, Faaborg-Andersen replied: “All I can say is that this is for the parties to discuss. And I’m not a party to these [Israeli-Palestinian peace] talks.”

Raphael Ahren, a Times of Israel reporter, goes on:

Faaborg-Andersen appeared to suggest that as long as Israel doesn’t attempt to change the country’s current demographic makeup, with full civil rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion or ethnic background, a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was rather harmless. However, he refused to confirm this interpretation of his comments or offer further comment on this issue.

After the briefing, Faaborg-Andersen’s spokesperson clarified in a statement that, “The EU has not pronounced a position on the question of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state among other reasons because we’re not sure about the implications of this on other final status issues. Therefore, we think that this is an issue to be discussed between the parties.”

Jan. 23, 2014 updates: (1) National camp parliamentarians criticized Peres for his Jewish state statements.

  • Homefront Defense Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud): “The demand for a Jewish state is meant to ensure that this will be an end to the conflict and that the Palestinians will not make any more demands after the agreement. It is unfortunate that Peres has yet again expressed policy that makes progress in the negotiations harder to achieve. We have a prime minister who was elected by the people and I do not understand why the president is interfering in diplomatic matters all the time.”
  • Strategic Affairs, Intelligence and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud): “Every negotiation for peace starts with mutual recognition. [The Palestinians] still haven’t recognized the existence of the Jewish people and its right to a state of its own. That’s the heart of the conflict. As long as the Palestinians do not recognize us as a Jewish state, there will not be peace, it will be a joke.”

Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud): “His disregard for the consistent refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is sticking his head in the sand, ignoring the true face of the enemy.”

(2) Columnist Nadav Shragai explains the logic of the Palestinian refusal to accept the Jewish state formulation:

The Palestinians have invented a new nation—the “Israeli nation.” They are prepared to recognize the right of the “Israeli nation” to exist in peace and security as a state, as long as it is not a Jewish state. That is the Palestinian version of “a state for all its citizens,” in which the Jewish and national identity of the State of Israel is completely obscured. Even when the Palestinians grit their teeth and talk about “two states for two peoples,” they are not talking about states for a Palestinian nation and a Jewish nation, but for a Palestinian nation and an Israeli nation.

The “Israeli nation” conceit has a serious purpose:

This delusion allows the Palestinians to continue declaring that they will establish a state on the pieces of land in the Palestinian territories that “will be released,” without giving up on the continued hope and effort to establish a Palestinian state on the remaining pieces of land, on all the territory in Israel, instead of Israel.

If that sounds familiar, it is:

This used to be called the “Phased Plan.” The path to achieving it includes the actualization of the “right” of return. The Palestinians have not given up on that either. So they continue to talk, to give speeches, preaching and promising that the day will come when they will return to the “settlements”—Jaffa, Lod, Haifa and Acre.

There is no limit to their territorial ambition:

The Palestinians are not keeping their right to self-determination within the 1947 lines or the 1967 borders, but they are actively striving toward realizing that right on all the lands of the State of Israel, or as they call it, Palestine. That is why they cannot recognize a Jewish state.

Shragai ends with a ringing endorsement for the Jewish state demand, bringing things up to date with the remarks by Peres:

From the Palestinian perspective, the presence of the Jewish people in Israel is temporary, passing, as passersby do. If we do not demand from them to recognize our permanent presence here, to recognize our connection to this land as the Jewish nation, a demand that implies the limiting of their right to self-determination to certain defined lines, we will fall into the same traps that Peres fell into in the past.

(3) Reuven Berko, an Israeli specialist on the Middle East, agrees with Shragai:

Peace is struck by fostering trust and removing any misgivings. In that respect, the problem lies with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, our address for the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state. …

Abbas and his ilk are well aware that recognizing Israel as the Jewish homeland means the de facto forfeiture of their demand for the “right of return,” and means the end of the conflict and their immediate end. That is not why the Palestinians are meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. …

The truth is that the agenda prompted by Abbas and his people has nothing to do with the “two states for two peoples” vision, but rather it includes their ultimate demand for the right of return to Israel, annihilating the Jewish majority in it and establishing Palestine “from river to sea.” This is why Abbas neither wants nor has the ability to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.

Berko also makes a point others have missed:

Abbas must also contend with an “Islamic problem.” Should he recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, he would be abiding by the Quran’s edict deeming the land of Israel as the people of Israel—the chosen people—and their inheritance by divine right. It would mandate that the Muslims recognize us as the heirs of the land specified in the Quran, and as Islam’s holy book makes no mention of the Palestinians, it would bring about the “end of the conflict.” …

a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland would spell the end of the conflict. This is a perfectly reasonable demand, which is a must for the sake of peace, and it cannot be set aside.

Jan. 24, 2014 updates: (1) Shlomo Cesana, diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom, argues that the Israeli insistence on Palestinians recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is vital because it cuts to the root cause of conflict.

This week, Netanyahu told his two guests—Romanian President Traian Basescu and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper—that he had had the opportunity to ask Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas whether the Palestinians would recognize a Jewish state. “That is when they start to stammer,” said Netanyahu, describing Abbas’ response. Then he provided an interpretation:

“That is the root of the conflict, and that is the key to its resolution. The root of the conflict is not the settlements. The root of the conflict is not and has never been the lack of a Palestinian state. The root of the conflict is the consistent refusal to accept the existence of an independent nation state for the Jewish people. True peace requires that the Palestinians finally recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”

The prime minister then explains the logic of pressing for a statement accepting Israel as the Jewish state: “This statement is not for us. Rather, it is vital in clarifying their true intentions. Do they want real peace, or do they want to continue with the plan of stages?” Cesana then fleshes out the recent news about Peres on this topic:

when it became clear that President Shimon Peres opposed Netanyahu’s position, the anger toward Peres in Netanyahu’s bureau was real. The president made his statements during a meeting he holds on occasion with ministers and Knesset members from several factions. Peres explained that Netanyahu’s insistence was “unnecessary,” as he put it, and that it could sabotage the peace talks. One of the high-ranking people who met with Peres said that he even described as an “odd demand.”

Peres explained during the same meeting that “the State of Israel was defined as a Jewish state by its own self, in the Scroll of Independence,” and added, “The only thing that will determine whether it remains a Jewish state is assuring its Jewish majority.” Peres’ position aligns with that of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid. In an interview about a month ago, Lapid described the insistence on demanding recognition as a Jewish state as “nonsense.”

Should the Palestinian Authority actually do as the prime minister wishes, he will respond generously:

If the Palestinians give up their demand for the return of the Palestinian refugees or recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu will be willing to say as early as the framework agreement that the talks will be based on the 1967 borders with land swaps that will include the settlement blocs.

(2) Ofir Akunis, a deputy minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, draws conclusions for Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish issue:

The Palestinians’ insistent refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s rightful homeland exposes the most sensitive nerve in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not a territorial dispute, but rather one that focuses on the very essence and existence of the State of Israel. … This means that the flawed “two states for two peoples” formula is not applicable. The Palestinians themselves denounce it, and in this case—they only reinforce the perception that forming a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria would be a mistake. …

The Palestinian themselves have stated that they have no interest in the two-state formula. They aspire for a Palestinian state “free of Jews” in Judea and Samaria, as Abbas had put it and another state in the Gaza Strip, which will also be “Jew-free” and has already become a terrorist base that threatens half of Israel’s territory. They want another state alongside those two, in sovereign Israel, which will not be the Jewish state but a binational state. In other words, the Palestinians do not want two states for two people, but three states for one people—the Palestinian people. That is the core of the conflict.




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