Why recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is anything but trivial

The Israeli demand for recognition as a Jewish State is anything but trivial. The commonly heard positions on this issue include: The fact that Israel has already been recognized by international law, that it has been recognized by the PA, that recognition was not necessary to make peace with Egypt and Jordan, that recognition would abandon the Israeli Arab population, and simply, that the demand is meaningless. If the demand is truly meaningless, why wouldn’t Abbas make a meaningless statement which would either force Netanyahu to move forward with the peace talks or blatantly expose him as stalling them? The reason Abbas refuses is because the demand is not meaningless and he knows it. The demand addresses all of Israel’s major concerns, and all of the PA’s toughest, necessary decisions. Accepting this demand would show that Abbas is ready to make what both he and Kerry know is an acceptable peace agreement with Israel. It shows that no further demands will be made on Israel concerning millions of refugees, and it shows that he is ready to face extremists who he legitimately fears will attack him and his government as traitors for making peace.

As the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians move towards their end of April deadline, Secretary of State Kerry retreated from his joint statement with PM Netanyahu on December 5th 2013 in which Kerry unambiguously stated “I join with President Obama in expressing to the people of Israel our deep, deep commitment to the security of Israel and to the need to find a peace that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state”. Kerry’s new statement as of March 14th 2014, shows a 180 degree reversal on this issue. The new position of the Department of State, as told to the Jerusalem Post, is that the declaration from Abbas is unnecessary because “The US already recognizes Israel as a Jewish state” and “international law already declares Israel a Jewish state.”  Kerry then noted, the “’Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181.”. In his meeting with Obama on March 17th 2014, Abbas said that the Palestinians had recognized Israel’s legitimacy in 1988 and in “1993 we recognized the state of Israel.” If the international community recognizes Israel as a Jewish State, the issue was resolved in 1947, and the Palestinians recognized Israel in 1988 and 1993, why is Israel making such a big deal of the recognition demand, unless Netanyahu is indeed trying to stall the peace talks?

Bringing up past recognitions, and explaining that other countries recognize Israel, is irrelevant to this round of talks for the simple reason that the previous talks failed. Regarding Kerry’s comment about American and International recognition of Israel, Israel isn’t making peace with the US, or the international community, it is making peace with the Palestinians. The reason that the 1993 or 1988 recognitions mean nothing is the same reason the 1947 recognition is irrelevant to these talks. Literally thousands of murders and an intifada since the 93 agreement make that agreement null and void, or at the very least in need of renewal. As for 1947, how on earth can Kerry say that the “issue was resolved in 1947?” Resolved? Tell that to the widows, orphans and veterans of 4 wars, decades of Fedayeen attacks from Syria, Jordan and Egypt, and 2 intifadas. Tell it to the families of over 1,500 killed in suicide bombings and the victims of tens of thousands of rockets. Absolutely nothing was resolved in 1947.

Successful peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt without recognition of Israel as a Jewish State are also irrelevant. After losing all hope of defeating Israel militarily, Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel. These are nation states which do not sit directly upon Israel’s population centers and only international airport. They made peace without recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and this was acceptable because they could be kept at bay and they know they would face serious consequences if they violated the peace treaty. The same context does not exist with the PA. Arafat spoke of peace, recognized Israel, and then launched a bloody intifada when it became apparent that he would not be able to blame Israel if peace talks failed.

That Arafat did not want peace is a given. Hopefully Abbas is not Arafat. If Abbas is indeed interested in peace and Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu’s demand is the perfect thing for him. If the demand for recognition was an attempt by Netanyahu at foiling the peace talks, all Abbas would have to do is call his bluff. If Abbas really desires peace and an agreement, all he needs to do to show it is to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and it will be impossible for Israel to not move forward with the peace process without being outed as the obvious obstructionist. Recognizing Israel would show that Abbas does not intend to have a Palestinian state and then fight to flood Israel with 5 million refugees, something both he and Kerry know Israel cannot accept. Accepting Netanyahu’s demand would give a lot of political clout to the PA and signify that Abbas intends to be honest and move toward statehood and a final settlement. If he indeed doesn’t intend to flood Israel with refugees, what reason would he have for not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state?

Anyone who says Abbas cannot recognize Israel as a Jewish State out of concern for the Israeli Arab population is either lying or a fool. Israeli Arabs enjoy more freedom and a better quality of life than Arabs anywhere in the ME, they have the most women’s rights, gay rights, religious rights, economic prosperity, education, political and journalistic freedom, and highest life expectancy in the region. A significantly large portion of Israeli Arabs polled even preferred to retain their Israeli citizenship. Expressed concern about Israeli Arabs as a reason for rejecting the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a farce.

The real reason Abbas will not do it is out of fear of extremists of which there are many powerful and organized groups in the region and in the West Bank, who pose a real threat. During the 2000 Camp David talks, Arafat asked then-president Bill Clinton, “Do you want to attend my funeral?” Just last week, regarding the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, Abbas revealed his true motive for refusal. “I am 79 years old and am not ready to end my life with treason.” Today Abbas fears exactly what Arafat feared, being labeled a traitor for making peace with Israel. The difference today is that the extremist groups are stronger, and the PA is weaker. Fear of extremists is a legitimate concern, but it is not a valid reason for rejecting recognition, in fact, the demand for recognition is so critical precisely because it forces Abbas to take a stand against the extremists. Abbas will have to establish dominance over these groups or peace cannot happen. Both Israel and the PA don’t want to risk another Gaza scenario.

The demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is anything but trivial. It clearly addresses Israel’s two greatest concerns. First it shows that Abbas does not intend to have his state and then flood Israel with refugees, effectively ending Israel as a Jewish democracy, and second, it shows that he is ready to control and defeat the extremists, something which is critically necessary for peace. If anything, Abbas’s demands for the release of convicted murderers is trivial, not only trivial but harmful to the peace process. Kerry has assured Israel that Abbas is serious about stopping incitement. “President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed.” Kerry’s assurance is exposed as absurd every time a released murderer, responsible for the death of Israeli civilians, is greeted by the PA, or Abbas personally as a national hero.

About the Author
Jeremiah Aryeh Rozman is a Senior Political Science Major and Middle East studies Minor at the University of Vermont. He made aliyah in 2005 and served in the Golani brigade 51st regiment from march 2007 until July 2009 (2.5 years of mandatory service). He is currently teaching Hebrew School in Burlington and is graduating with a BA in May 2014.
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