In 2014, the people of Scotland will vote on whether to remain in the United Kingdom. Should the State of Israel promulgate an official opinion on whether Great Britain is not really British without Scotland?
The residents of Catalonia recently elected a parliament in which a majority of seats are held by separatist parties. They are seeking to conduct a similar referendum on independence. Basques too, have been ambivalent at best about being part of the Spanish republic. Should our Knesset or Foreign Ministry take a stand on what constitutes, or should constitute, Spain? To state the question slightly differently: should Israel be involved in defining what makes Spain Spanish?
The Francophone population of Canada, which composes the majority in the Province of Quebec, is chronically uncomfortable as part of overwhelmingly Anglophone Canada. Many French Canadians feel that their desire for French cultural expression, going well beyond language to such questions as the relationship between religion and government, is squelched by the federal government. Should Israel take a stand on what constitutes true Canadian identity? How about on Canada’s relationship with its indigenous First Nations?
Many citizens of the United States of America propose declaring English as the sole official language of that vast republic. What should Jerusalem say to Washington on this matter: “No”? “Si”? Anything at all?
Italians have been struggling for a century and a half with the defining the proper role of the Catholic Church in their politics. Is that any of our business?
We Israelis can rest assured that our government will wisely sidestep all these questions and others like them. We will continue to defer to the citizens of the respective countries to define who is British, or what Spain ought to be, or which ethnic groups Canadian law should protect and promote. Defining a country’s character is best left to its own citizens, especially when those citizens are free to debate, to lobby, and to elect legislators who will either reflect public opinion or be voted out of office.
Why, then, should Israelis insist that Palestinians must take a stand on the character of their sovereign, self-defining neighbor, the State of Israel?
Our neighbors are seeking to be citizens of a Palestinian state. They are people who are not and do not desire to be citizens of Israel. Why is their imprimatur necessary for our state to fully serve the Jewish people, or whatever interests its citizens choose to promote?
Prime Minister Netanyahu and others on the political right here insist that Palestinian negotiators express recognition of the State of Israel as the political expression of the Jewish people. That is a matter for the citizens of democratic Israel to decide, though, with no more foreign support or interference than we would impose on the U.K., the U.S., Spain, Italy, or Canada in decisions about the nature of any of those countries.
For us, it should be sufficient that an independent Palestine, or its founders, recognize the government of Israel de facto and de jure as the legitimate government of this state, within internationally recognized borders. That is the nature of international relations everywhere. It is up to us, not them, to define the nature of our society. We can choose to defend Jewish interests, or to protect Jews, anywhere in the world. We can help disseminate the Hebrew language. We can devote public resources to Birthright, Masa, or any other educational enterprise designed to strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora. We can invest in Jewish studies in our public schools. Or we can choose to do none of those things. Those choices are the right and responsibility solely of Israelis.
Why does the insistent demand that our neighbors must adopt a particular position on what makes Israel Israeli come from supposed proponents of the efforts to reach a political accommodation with the Palestinians and an end to the conflict between our two peoples? When that position might well be construed as undermining the struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel for equal opportunities in this country, one really has to wonder what prompts such inconsistent political philosophy. Is it just a misguided focus on our position rather than our interests? Or could it be a desire to scuttle the peace process, a move that would leave us mired in conflict?