Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recognizing a Jewish State?

Gavin sparked a discussion in the comments sections about the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state. So let's see if we can unravel the issue a bit.

The idea was first inserted into the negotiation equation by the a group of Israeli Lefties, in 2001. Here's my description of the story, from page 268 of  Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars:
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. These were all old friends who have been meeting for many years in hope of finding enough common ground to enable the politicians to pick up the torch. Back when they started, they were unpopular pariahs in their respective communities for daring to reach out to the enemy; but over years of perseverance they had managed to pull ever larger segments of their people behind them, and from eccentrics they had become mainstream. Between them there must have been many thousands of hours of dialogue. Intelligent, educated individuals, rational realists, there was not a hard-line militant among them.

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.
Nowadays everyone likes to pretend that the demand for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish State is an evil machination of Netanyahu; most pundits are ignorant, natuarally, but Israeli critics of the demand aren't. They're hypocrites. The originators of the idea were a bunch of hard-left Israeli peaceniks.

The essence however is more important than the etymology. Is it really so essential that the Palestinians accept Zionism? If they make peace with Israel, isn't that enough?

It depends what you mean by "making peace".

 If, in response to a set of Israeli terms and concessions, the Palestinians renounce their claim to a right of return of the descendants of the refugees to Israel, and they sign to a permanent, final and irrevocable end of the conflict, including renouncing any claim to somehow represent the Arab citizens of Israel, and if they prove this by desisting from brainwashing and inciting their children and general populace against Israel, then I suppose the Israeli demand can be dropped. In such conditions, in which Palestine has no more interest in the internal matters of Israel than Ecuador does, or Burundi, then indeed it will be irrelevant if they recognize us as this sort of state or that.

Until that hypothetical moment, the Israeli demand is shorthand for it. It's also longhand for the idea that the goal of the peace process is not a situation that will enable future whittling away of Zionism.


Anonymous said...

thanks for this post Yaacov
now I'll be able to read your book

all this time I could never get myself to order it because I found the title so off-putting i.e. "Right to Exist" being for me such a given that I considered it demeaning*) to even consider thinking about reasons for it.
(*)in the category of whether women are human etc.)


Avigdor said...

It is important to note that this demand is being made of the Palestinians, with whom the struggle, physically and intellectually, is existential, and not neighboring Arab states.

Egypt was not asked to recognize Israel as a Jewish state prior to the peace accords. Neither was Jordan. Neither is Syria being asked to do so. All these states can be made to accept - through agreement and deterrence - the territorial integrity of a state in the Levant, whether it's a Jewish national home or something else.

For Palestinians, the issue is not Israel's territorial sovereignty, but its existence. Splicing hairs between accepting Israel and accepting the legitimacy and justness of Israel are attempts at diversion.

The righteousness of Israel's existence is synonymous with its acceptance. To do otherwise would be to lay the foundation for a continuation of conflict at a time more suitable to Palestinian aspirations.

Anonymous said...

I confess I haven't read your post yet, but I wanted to find some links to what some other smart people have said on the subject for Gavin to take a look at. So here they are:





Anonymous said...

Great post, Yaacov.

Silke, you should definitely add Yaakov's book to your list.


Lee Ratner said...

Its important to get the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State since it is the best possible way to get them to recognize that millions of Arabs are not going to be allowed to settle in Israel in the pre-1967 borders. It creates a finality to any deal with them, or at least more finality than simply recognizing Israel.

Lee Ratner said...

Its important to get the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State since it is the best possible way to get them to recognize that millions of Arabs are not going to be allowed to settle in Israel in the pre-1967 borders. It creates a finality to any deal with them, or at least more finality than simply recognizing Israel.

NormanF said...

Its very important to close the door to a future continuation of the conflict by preventing the Arabs from airing demands for the dismemberment of Israel under one guise or the other.

There must really be two states for two peoples. Not one state for the Arabs and half a state for the Jews. The Palestinians don't yet accept the two states two peoples principle.

And until they do, no breakthrough to a peace agreement will be possible in the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...


in Germany you can get this book for a really small fee from the "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung". So a small part of our taxmoney isn't wasted at all. ;-)

Regards, André

Micha said...

1) Is a peace deal acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians attainable at present?

I don't think so, but

a. let's assume that it's possible for the sake of argument

b. even if not, it is in Israel's interest to be perceived as the side wiling to make peace in order to deflect attempt by its enemies to delegitimize it as the side that is against peace.

2) Assuming that peace, or at least the perception of willingness to make peace, are necessary for Israel in order to secure its legitimacy as a Jewish state, is the demand for such recognition beneficial to Israel?

I don't think so. If peace is possible, then it is not worth scuttling it for a hollow, general, unenforceable declaration of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Instead it is better to fill the agreement with more precise, unambiguous and seemingly neutral terms articles that will guarantee things like the sovereignty of both sides, non interference in internal affairs, caveats against irredentism and so forth.

If peace is not possible and the peace process is simply another propaganda tool to attack Israel, it is not in Israel's interest, as a matter of propaganda, to cast the issue in terms of recognition of a Jewish state, since that term is subject to a lot of manipulation by the enemies of Israel. It is better to cast it in terms that are more palatable to the audiences we want to influence -- mutual respect and recognition, fear of irredentism.

3) Would even a deal with strong caveats prevent the Palestinian government and/or others from trying to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state (among other things)?

No, it won't. However, I think the existence of such a deal, with strong articles dealing with this issue will make it easier for Israel to defend itself from such diplomatic attacks and prevent them from escalating. Just as a strong army and strong security will necessary to deter our enemies and prevent terrorism even if there is a peace deal.

Barry Meislin said...

If Israel is not recognized as a Jewish State, there is absolutely no reason not to agree to that (just another) Palestinian demand that all those millions of Palestinian "refugees" be repatriated within the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Nope, no reason. None whatsoever.

To preserve the identity of Israel? But what identity?....

Because that's the next step in this charade known as "the Peace Talks" between Israel and its "Partners in Peace" (Inc.).

(Define "peace" for us, once again...?)

And know (and know well) that the demand for repatriation is the next step (assuming we get that far)---hold on! "The next step?" Actually, that demand has been there since Day 1. Pooh-poohed, of course, by all those "experts" who believe, insist, claim, what-have-you that this demand for repatriation is merely a Palestinian negotiating ploy.

To which the only reasonable (not to mention responsible, not to mention articulate) response is:

Besides, it makes sense for the Palestinians to drag this issue out on oh-so-many levels, not least because it helps them drag out the conflict, but because it helps them to focus the so-called "racist" aspect of Israel's identity.

And oh, how the world loves to lap that up!!

So how d'you like them apples?

Micha said...

"If Israel is not recognized as a Jewish State, there is absolutely no reason not to agree to that (just another) Palestinian demand that all those millions of Palestinian "refugees" be repatriated"

A peace agreement doesn't need to provide a 'reason' nor does Israel as a sovereign state need to provide one. What an agreement needs to provide is the recognition of Israel as a sovereign state that is not required to provide explanations to its immigration policies.

"o preserve the identity of Israel? But what identity?.... "

The identity of Israel is an internal issue and does not belong in a peace agreement, nor should it be introduced by us. If anything we should insist that it is an internal issue.

"To which the only reasonable (not to mention responsible, not to mention articulate) response is:

My response is shorter: NO.

It in in the interest of Israel to refuse to sign a peace agreement that includes the right of return, but it is not in its interest to refuse to sign a deal because it doesn't include a recognition of Israel as Jewish, provided the agreement contains other provisos to prevent irredentism.

"Besides, it makes sense for the Palestinians to drag this issue out on oh-so-many levels, not least because it helps them drag out the conflict, but because it helps them to focus the so-called "racist" aspect of Israel's identity."

Exactly, which is why peace is unlikely, which is why this becomes an issue of propaganda. However we must be able to defend ourselves from propaganda attacks as effectively as we do against other forms of attack.

"So how d'you like them apples?"

As an Israeli I have no choice but to live with these apples here or emigrate. As a Zionist I choose the former.

Anonymous said...

Yaacov's book has been needling me long enough, right now I'll go and order it (I've decided to support the local book store against amazon not matter how awkward it will prove to be)

thanks! I am glad to learn we do something well for a change, but I'll enjoy spending money Yaacov benefits from and second the Bundeszentrale version is translated and amazon says the English one is not, so I'll order the English one.

Anonymous said...

OT but likely to be useful in this context

Lee Smith has a piece about an Israeli Nobel Laureate which is a delight to read because Mr. Aumann thinks along the lines I do albeit with less brain power. (note to Sergio - it seems there are scientists outside of hard areas who can think straight ;-)




Wrong Move
The key to a lasting peace, argues Israeli Nobel Prize winner Robert Aumann, is not to insist on ‘peace now’

Anonymous said...


of course you're right. I didn't think of the loss by translation.


Sérgio said...


Note taken. :) Though, for the record (damn, I can´t resist it!) I think I said there are hard-nosed "hard-science " scientists and non-hard-nosed non-hard-scientists. Or something like that.

Stab said...

The issue seems quite simple. The demand for a "right of return" amounts to a negation of Israel's right to exist. If a state cannot exercise such a fundamental right as deciding for itself who can immigrate and in what numbers, then it is not an equal member in the family of sovereign nations. Israel has every right to demand that the "right of return" is renounced as a prerequisite to any negotiatioins. You can't treat your own right to exist as one more point for negotiation. How come THIS is not the position of the Israeli government?

Anonymous said...

I admit defeat - you knotted my brain


Sérgio said...


I am defeated too. :)

Gavin said...

Thanks for the explanation Yaacov, and other comments from people. I'm afraid on this one you just don't make sense... not to me anyway and I'm a reasonably open minded person. That you want recognition and acceptance asa Jewish state is perfectly understandable but not in the context of negotiations over statehood for the Palestinians.

I've followed Yaacovs blogs for long enough to be comfortable with the conclusion that Israelis really do want separation and peace, but it's issues like this that make many other people think you're not serious about it. It creates a perception gap that can't be bridged.

Regards, Gavin

Bryan said...

So what Gavin is saying is that people don't look at what people do (like withdraw from the Sinai, South Lebanon, and Gaza, destroying communities in the first and last cases) but rather what they say (making rhetorical demands in lieu of actual, territorial ones).

People, in short, are idiots.

But the fact that people are stupid should not stop Israel from making these demands, since it would be foolish for Israel to say, "okay, these are our red lines, just negotiate until you hit them and we'll cave in."

Gavin said...

Micha there has put a lot of the points I'd have raised Brian. The return of the Palestinian refugees is something that has to be resolved in the negotiations over statehood for the Palestinians. If there ever is two separate states then that issue must have already been sorted out because a state cannot make demands of another state over matters of immigration (or anything else for that matter)

I've had the impression that people aren't really looking at the wider view and giving thought to what statehood actually means. Palestine becomes a nation, admitted to the UN as such. That means no more refugee camps, no more UNWRA, no more western charity, it means fixed borders and total separation from the state of Israel. Any relations between Israel and Palestine would have to be conducted at the diplomatic level. It is a very large and fundamental change in the situation there, and personally I've long held the thought that the Palestinians are scared of separate states because they seem to understand better than Israelis what it portends for them. It's a very forbidding prospect for the Palestinian leadership....

Cheers, Gavin

Barry Meislin said...

Once again, Gavin, you've explained exceeding well why the Palestinians do not want and will not accept a state.

(Why do I keep repeating myself? repeating myself? repeating myself?)

Anonymous said...

‘Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state.’

I have seen variations of this statement from muslims over the years. This statement seems to stump not only politicians but the populous as well. The correct answer should be:

Islam is also a religion not a nationality. Muslims living in Israel neither need nor deserve a 23rd islamic state. Period.

Since when did the opinion of terrorists and their two-bit leader matter? Israel is a Jewish country, the only one in the world and the need for it is obvious. Muslims can disagree but their opinion is irrelevant.

Instead we see Israel’s generous immigration policy being used as club. There a lot of people in Israel that are not Jews, but that does not change the fact that Israel is a Jewish country nor does the fact that they are there give them the right to demand otherwise.

Israeli politicians have given Abu Mazen power that he does not deserve. It is time to tell him that he is irrelevant and his opinions are worthless. He cannot make any binding agreements, so why continue the ‘piece process’. It is time to take control of the discussion and say, ‘Israel is a Jewish country, have a problem with it?, tough.’ ‘Right of return…never’ ‘an Islamic country in our heartland? Not going to happen.’

Israel needs to take back their country, kick the enemy out and get on with it. Muslims have long forfeited the right to anything with their warlike ways. Send them to Egypt, Syria and Iran. Surely these islamic countries can solve this wholly islamic problem.

SarahSue conservative American

Anonymous said...

Could you be more specific? Which two dozen intellectuals? What's your source for what transpired at their discussion(s)?

It's hard to evaluate the importance of your (very interesting) reporting without this information.

Yaacov said...

Annonymous -

It was more than 12 years ago, and my source was watching them be interviewed on the TV news. Then, about when I wrote this post, I sent a number of e-mails to be sure I hadn't been wrong. Menachem Brinker, perhaps? I think he was one of the participants who reluctanly confirmed. The top fellow on TV at the time would probably have been Amoz Oz himself, but I could be mistaken. I also seem to remember Haim Baram, but again, it's more than a decade and I could be wrong. But I'm not wrong about the story itself, as thos e-mails 3.5 years ago grudgingly confirmed. (By the time they were very embarrassed).