When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered to press his cabinet to impose a
freeze of settlement construction if Palestinians would recognize Israel as the
national home of the Jewish people, I had mixed feelings about the proposal.
After all, there is little doubt that Israel is the Jewish homeland. The United
Nations established it that way, and the international community recognizes it
Why ask Palestinians, who dislike that fact, to restate the
obvious? And yet, the intensity of the Palestinians’ rejection of the idea has
uncovered such a fundamental challenge to the “two-state solution” that I am now
persuaded that true, lasting peace may never come unless Palestinians and other
Arabs openly accept Israel as a Jewish nation.
Jewish nation, of course,
does not mean special rights for Jews or second-class status for non-Jews.
Israel is a democratic country whose laws clearly spell out equality for all
citizens. Like other democracies, it doesn’t always achieve its goal of
equality, but its courts, citizens groups and others continuously work to reach
And Israel is hardly the only country that includes a religion or
nationality in its selfdefinition.
Scores of states embrace a religion or
a nationality while maintaining diversity and striving for equal rights. Jewish
citizens of the United Kingdom are loyal to a country whose flag has not one but
two Christian crosses. There are dozens of self-described Christian countries,
most of them fully functioning democracies with minority rights.
democracy-deprived Arab League counts 22 members self-identified as Arab states,
while 55 countries define themselves as Muslim nations belonging to the
Organization of the Islamic Conference. Only one minuscule nation on Earth is a
FOR ALMOST a decade the United States has urged
Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Last year, President Barack
Obama told the UN General Assembly that, “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 yet, when Netanyahu – like his
predecessor – asked Palestinians to recognize the Jewish character of Israel,
not as a prerequisite for talks but as a trust-building measure, their
almost-instantaneous reaction was vehement rejection. Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas declared, “We will never sign an agreement recognizing a
Jewish state.” Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat insisted, “This is completely
And when a Palestinian official hinted it might be doable, he
was immediately overruled.
Nabil Sha’ath, an adviser to Abbas, noted, “We
are not going to do it. Forget it.”
Palestinians seem unwilling to even
recognize Israel as the state of another “people.”
PA Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad furiously stormed out of a meeting with Israeli Deputy Prime
Minister Danny Ayalon after he suggested a summary of their discussions include
the term “two states for two peoples” instead of just “two states.”
long as Palestinians continue denying the ancient connection between Jews and
the land of Israel, as long as they reject the Jewish people’s right to a state,
any peace agreement will be written in sand at the edge of the ocean: The
smallest tide will wash it away.
Israelis want to know that if they make
the sacrifices required for peace and a Palestinian state is created, the
conflict will have been resolved; that peace will mean the end of efforts to
destroy the Jewish state.
As long as Palestinians and others refuse to
accept that Israel is, indeed, a Jewish state, that Jews have a right to their
own country, there can be no certainty that those sinister designs will
THE REJECTION of Netanyahu’s proposal – and of American demands –
for such recognition, came at the same time as Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad visited the Israeli-Lebanese border to reaffirm his call for
Israel’s destruction. Lebanon’s Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbullah, told
the cheering crowd that “President Ahmadinejad is right when he says Israel is
illegitimate and should cease to exist.”
A recent poll in the United
States found that more than three-quarters of American Jews believe the goal of
the Arabs “is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction
Whether Palestinians like it or not, Israel already is the
national state of the Jewish people.
Israelis have already recognized the
right of Palestinians to have their state. As long as Palestinians fail to
recognize the right of the Jewish people to have theirs, true peace may never
The writer writes about global affairs for The Miami Herald. – MCT