Netanyahu elaborates on what he means by "Jewish State" – and, he says, it is also a democratic state

One of the main critiques of recent insistent Israeli demand for Palestinian recognition of a “Jewish State” as a key part of any negotiated solution is: What, exactly, does it mean?

This questions have been asked by persons [including senior European diplomats with long experience in the region] who have what could be argued is a neutral position. Some Israelis also ask the same question.

Palestinian reaction is more visceral: anger. They believe they know what it means: they believe they are being asked to agree to another denial of their rights, and to another Palestinian expulsion.

This issue of a “Jewish State” was first prominently raised, in this decade, by the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in his 14-point letter of reservation about the U.S.-backed Road Map in 2003. There was no strong public reaction at the time, though, it has to be said, most people have not read the Israeli reservations to the Road Map.

It came up again, suddenly, from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, before the start of the Annapolis process of negotiations sponsored by the U.S. and launched in November 2007, with the goal of the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008 [or, at very latest, by the end of the George W. Bush administration in January 2009]. Though it might have made all the difference in arriving at an early and successful conclusion of those direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, it was set aside upon American advice, because of the strong and confused Palestinian reaction. The Annapolis talks were terminated when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on 27 December 2008.

Then, Israeli Prime Minister Benyahim Netanyahu replied, to U.S. President Barack Obama’s highly-publicized speech reaching out to the Muslim world from Cairo, with a speech of his own delivered from Bar Ilan University in which he mentioned the possibility of a demilitarized Palestinian state, if Palestinians recognized Israel as “the state of the Jewish people”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] brushed this off by saying, several times, that he didn’t care what Israel called itself.

Netanyahu made another recent attempt to be more descriptive, concurrent with U.S. efforts to relaunch “direct” Israeli-Palestinian talks with U.S. participation, in September. In a teleconference call with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations [as we reported on our sister blog here], Netanyahu said that this “would be a central part of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Just say it’, Netanyahu called on Abbas. ‘Say yes to a Jewish state’. The prime minister explained that he was insisting on this because ‘this is a move the Palestinians have refused to make for 62 years. Its significance is Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self-definition in their historic homeland. I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-definition, so they must do the same for the Jewish people’.”

YNet reported last week that “The Prime Minister’s Office said the matter should have no bearing on the peace talks with the Palestinians, since Israel’s first prerequisite in the negotiations is for recognition as the Jewish state”. This is reported here.

Palestinians have, of course, already accepted Israel as a Jewish State when Yasser Arafat issued the Declaration of Independence of the Palestinian State in November 1988, then more explicitly [at U.S. insistence] at a UN meeting and then press conference in Geneva in December 1988. In these events, Arafat [with the endorsement of the PLO’s Palestine National Council] accepted UN General Assembly resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, which — at Britain’s request for the newly-created UN to decide on the disposition of the British mandate of Palestine awarded by the UN’s predecessor, the Geneva-based League of Nations — divided Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish.

The Palestinians, however, seem to have forgotten…

Today, at the start of the regular weekly cabinet session, Netanyahu linked the argument back to the controversial Citizenship oath he has backed, saying: “Today, the Cabinet will discuss an amendment to the Citizenship Law, to the effect that anyone seeking to become a naturalized Israeli citizen will declare the he or she will be a loyal citizen of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In 1896, Theodor (Binyamin Zeev) Herzl wrote: ‘The Jews who are seeking a state will have a state. Finally, we will live as free people on our own land’. Fifty-one years later, on the eve of independence, David Ben-Gurion wrote: ‘The state that will be established will be Jewish in its purpose, designation and objective; not a state of those Jews who reside in the country but a state for the Jews, for the Jewish People’. Our Declaration of Independence says: ‘We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, to be known as the state of Israel”

[There was no mention of Israel being a democratic state in 1948 — the democratic system was not universal at the time, nor was it until the end of the Cold War in 1989 + 1990…]

Netanyahu continued today: “In 1992, the Knesset – in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty – determined: ‘The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state’.

[This was the first official declaration of Israel being a democratic state…]

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