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Prime Minister Netanyahu is making conditional his acceptance of the creation of a Palestinian state on the Palestinian's willingness to recognize Israel as a "Jewish State." Tzipi Livni made the same demand prior to the Annaplois summit. The parties then could not reach an acceptable formula regarding the definition of the State of Israel. Instead, President Bush stated: "This [peace] settlement will establish Palestine as the Palestinian homeland, just as Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people." Palestinian President Abbas has stated that it is not the task of the Palestinian people to define the character of the State of Israel ""It is not my job to give a description of the state. Name yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic - it is none of my business."
In the letter from Yasser Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin at the time of the signing of the Oslo Agreement, Arafat wrote: "The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security." Once again, the character of the State was not defined.
Most Israeli critics of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process state that the Palestinians have never really recognized Israel's right to exist because they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Interestingly there was no such demand made to Egypt or to Jordan when they signed peace agreements with Israel. The Israel-Jordan peace treaty states (Article 2: Recognition) "Recognize and respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence..." The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty states: "recognize and will respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence". No where is there any mention of a "Jewish State."
THERE ARE TWO substantive reasons why the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians have not received from Israel any clear answer regarding the status of more than one million Palestinians in Israel should Israel be recognized by them as a Jewish state. Palestinians fear that they would be paving the road that would be used by Israel to transfer the Palestinian citizens of Israel to the Palestinian state. That fear is substantiated by the stated policies of Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs and the plans that Avigdor Lieberman has developed for moving the border between the two state where there are large clusters of Palestinian-Israeli citizens, like Um el Fahem. The second substantive reason is that in their view it will a priori remove the discussion of the rights of Palestinian refugees from the negotiations table even before they have the chance to raise their claims and demands.
The UN Resolution which provides for the international legitimacy for the creation of both the State of Israel and the Palestinian state (UN Resolution 181) does refer to a Jewish state: "Independent Arab and Jewish States ... shall come into existence in Palestine..." The Palestinian Declaration of Independence from November 1988 calls on this very same international legitimacy for the creation of the Palestinian State: "...UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947), which partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish, ...provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty."
THE DEFINITION of Israel as a Jewish state is found in Israel's Declaration of Independence "...hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." The Declaration has no official status in Israeli law. The reference to the Jewish State in Israeli law is in "the Basic Law: The Knesset" which states that political parties or individuals who do not recognize Israel as "a Jewish and democratic state" cannot run in elections.
In practice and reality, Israel defines itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The character of the state is a secular-nationalistic definition and not a religious one. Israel is the state of the Jewish people in the same way that France is the state of the French people and not as Iran is an Islamic republic, but as Iran is the nation-state of the Iranian people. It is true that the definition of Judaism encompasses both religion and nationhood, but in international political relations between states, it is the secular definition and character which is in the front.
There should be a Basic Law in Israel which defines the character of the State of Israel. That Law must come to terms with the 20% of the citizens of the country who were born here and who must be recognized as having a stake in the country. I am quite certain that if the Law in Israel defined Israel as "The state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens," the Palestinian leadership would be able to recognize Israel as such and most Jewish Israelis could also live with this as well. The current lack of definition enables Israel's Palestinian citizens to feel estranged from the State and allows the State to view those citizens as less than full citizens.
The writer is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.