Opinion

Think again: The demand for recognition as a Jewish state: Is it just? Is it wise?

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will never get an even break from The New York Times.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Surrender would mark an ignominious end to his political career
Photo by: EMIL SALMAN / POOL / FLASH 90
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will never get an even break from The New York Times. After the tentative – and as yet unimplemented – agreement between Iran and the P5+1, the Times treated Netanyahu’s “bellicose” criticisms of the agreement as if were the only barrier to a spirit of amity breaking out all over between Iran and the rest of the world, and suggested that the prime minister of the only country whose annihilation has been repeatedly called for by Iran should just keep his mouth shut.

The paper takes the same dim view of Netanyahu’s approach to peace talks with the Palestinians: But for Netanyahu – inevitably described as “right wing” – peace would have long since broken out.

Jodi Rudoren’s January 1 “Sticking Point in Peace Talks: Recognition of a Jewish State” is by no means the most egregious or one-sided of the Times’s offerings on the subject. But once again Netanyahu stands accused of “catapult[ing] to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinian people recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Unnamed critics are quoted as accusing Netanyahu of having inserted a “poison pill” in order to scuttle the negotiations, knowing that the Palestinians will never agree.

It is possible, even likely, that Netanyahu does not expect the Palestinians to acquiesce on this point. But that does not make the demand unjustified. Netanyahu’s task as prime minister is not to sign peace accords with the Palestinian Authority, but to achieve security and peace for Israel. And the two should never be conflated, as they have so often in the past when “peace process” became a substitute for “peace.”

Netanyahu’s demand flows from a recognition that since the outset of Oslo the Palestinian leadership has not even begun to educate its people for peace. They have never told their people that a Palestinian state cannot be achieved without “painful concessions,” including renunciation of the “right of return” by the Palestinians and the acceptance of limitations on Palestinian sovereignty necessary to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Rather the official Palestinian education system and media has whipped the population into a frenzy of hatred for Israel worse than what preceded Oslo. The hero’s welcome accorded by Mahmoud Abbas to perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against Israeli civilians, who were freed by Israel under American pressure, is but the most recent example. (The sheer evil of forcing a country to pardon the murderers of its citizens was tacitly admitted by the Americans when they protested the return of a Palestinian who murdered an American citizen.) The failure of peace education has rendered Palestinian leaders incapable of negotiating seriously about peace because they know that as soon as they compromise a single holy principle they are dead men walking.

Arafat told Clinton at Camp David that he was asking him to commit suicide, and if that was true of Arafat, the symbol of the Palestinian national movement, how much more so the far less popular Abbas? But without such an education for peace Israel is being asked to agree not to a two-state solution – something to which a majority of Israelis consent in principle – but to a two-stage solution in which the Palestinians receive their state as a launching pad for eventually regaining what they consider their patrimony. Islam views any concession of even an inch of land ever under Islamic sovereignty – so-called dar al-Islam – as strictly forbidden.

And that is still the view promoted by the Palestinian Authority in both secularized and religious forms.

Yuval Steinitz, minister of intelligence and international affairs, laid out the four intertwined strands of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to educate for peace in an excellent op-ed in The New York Times last October, “How Palestinian Hate Prevents Peace.” The first strand consists of denial that there exists a Jewish people with any connection to the Land of Israel. Arafat’s refusal to acknowledge that a Jewish Temple ever stood in Jerusalem, which so dumbfounded president Clinton at Camp David, is one example. The second strand portrays Jews and Zionists as the most inhumane and corrupt people on the face of the earth.

The third strand of official Palestinian propaganda promulgates the message that the struggle must continue until the replacement of Israel by an Arab-Palestinian state, and the fourth that all means are legitimate in pursuit of that goal, including terrorist murders. The repeated references in Palestinian textbooks to all of Israel as Palestine, including cities such as Haifa, Tiberias and Safed, are examples of the third strand, and the idolization of even the most savage of released terrorists by Palestinian leaders from Abbas on down of the fourth.

ACCORDING TO Rudoren, Netanyahu’s emphasis on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state raises several profound, unresolved questions, such as, “Can Israel preserve its identity as a Jewish democratic state while also providing equal rights to citizens of other faiths and backgrounds?” But Israel has been doing that for 65 years. Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. In every Muslim country, including the Palestinian-controlled city of Bethlehem, terrorized Christian populations are fleeing.

Israel’s Arab population enjoys more democratic rights than they would in any Arab state, including the Palestinian Authority. Only 25% of residents of the West Bank and 18% of those in the Gaza say they feel free to criticize the government, according to Palestinian polls. Journalists who criticize the government regularly find themselves in prison or worse. And both Abbas and Haniyeh have pushed off new elections for years.

The Palestinian claim that recognition of Israel as a democratic state would disenfranchise Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens is completely bogus. Arab citizens have been living in a self-proclaimed Jewish state for 65 years already. Every time a proposal is floated to exchange heavily populated Arab areas from Israel into a Palestinian state as part of a peace deal Israeli Arabs lash out against the instigators of such evil plans. They prefer their lives as Israeli citizens to anything they could expect in a Palestinian state.

The claim that Israeli Arabs might ever be disenfranchised is nothing more than projection by the Palestinians, who never tire of insisting that their state will be entirely judenrein, without a single Jewish resident. One could well ask why that demand is always treated as self-evidently just.

The West, in general, has consistently reduced any hopes of peace by treating the Palestinians as spoiled children to whom all must be given but from whom nothing can ever be expected. Thus they are by far the largest per-capita recipients of foreign largesse from Western countries despite both the PA and Hamas-controlled Gaza being run as kleptocracies, and an entire UN apparatus, UNRWA, exists solely to care for Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity, even as tens of millions of other refugees from ethnic strife since 1948 have long been removed from the refugee rolls.

By failing to treat Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel as an issue of the highest importance fundamentally undermining Israelis’ capacity to trust Palestinian intentions, the West has reduced the possibility of any final status agreement being signed any time in the near future. Prime Minister Netanyahu is insisting Palestinian education for peace as a basic Israeli requirement for a peace agreement.

WHILE THE demand for recognition is both wise and strategically required, it is still possible to ask whether as a tactical matter it is being given too much prominence.

What would happen if, miraculously, a Palestinian leader were prepared to sign off on such recognition? Would Israel, having placed such emphasis on the importance of recognition, then find itself under greater pressure than before for concessions on other issues no less important for its long-term survival? Such recognition without a preceding revamping of Palestinian education and media to educate for peace and without a popular Palestinian referendum would remain not credible in the eyes of most Israelis. Rudoren points out that Palestinian support for such recognition of Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade – from 65% to 40% – influenced in large part by the continued official PA propaganda.

Overemphasis on Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character must also not be expense of the no less intractable security issues, of which Israel maintaining security control over the Jordan Rift Valley is only one part. The greatest concern about a Palestinian state in the West Bank is that it would simply become a failed-state haven for terrorism against Israel, like Gaza or Southern Lebanon.

The three great “game changers” that keep Israeli strategists up at night are anti-tank missiles and short-range rockets, says former national security adviser Gen. Giora Eiland. Only the Israeli security presence in Judea and Samaria has prevented this from taking place so far.

TO PREVENT a return to the situation of the pre-1967 “Auschwitz borders,” Israel needs to retain control over the high ground overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, the Tel Aviv Jerusalem highway and the narrow coastal plain in which most of Israel’s population and industrial capacity is located. It would also have to retain full control of Palestinian air space – it is only four flight minutes from the Jordan River to Jerusalem – and the electro-magnetic spectrum to prevent jamming. It is even more doubtful that the Palestinians would ever agree to these limitations on their sovereignty that they will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But Israel cannot live without them.

Israel must ensure that it does not set itself up for concessions on its most basic security needs as the price for formal Palestinian recognition of its Jewish character that might not be worth the price of the paper it’s written on.  The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.


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