Yochanan Visser

Why recognition of Israel as Jewish state is crucial for peace

A Peace Index poll that was published last week showed that 70% of Israelis do not believe that the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will result in a final status accord that would end the conflict once and for all. Israelis also do not trust US Secretary of State John Kerry when it comes to his commitment to Israel’s security.

The poll was conducted after Kerry told Congress that Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a mistake. Israel has made this demand central to the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and 77% of the Israeli public fully agrees, according to another poll.

Kerry noted that the “Jewish state” issue was addressed by UN Resolution 181 in 1947, which granted international recognition to the fledgling state of Israel. There are “more than 40 — 30 mentions of a ‘Jewish state’” in the resolution, Kerry said, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agreed it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.

Kerry however, omitted that the current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly has stated that recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jews is out of the question. For example, at the end of March the official PA news agency WAFA reported that Abbas has stated that there’s “no way” he’ll recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

So why is Abbas unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and why has Israel made this recognition the central demand in the negotiations with the PA? Another important question that needs to be answered is if Kerry was right when he said that Arafat had agreed that Israel would be a Jewish state.

Over the last two weeks experts have written extensively on this issue and attempted to deliver the answer.

Alan Baker set the record straight about Arafat and his so called recognition of the Jewish state:

“In the last quarter of 1988, an intense effort was undertaken by then Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Anderson to facilitate the opening of a diplomatic dialogue between the PLO and the United States. Previously, all U.S. administrations had strictly adhered to U.S. commitments, originally given by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Israeli Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, that required the PLO to recognize Israel, accept UN Security Council Resolution 242, and renounce terrorism as prerequisites for any dialogue between the parties. Anderson’s efforts were one of the factors behind Arafat’s decision to issue a Palestinian declaration of independence at the Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting in Algiers on 15 November 1988.

Significantly, Arafat did not issue a clear declaration recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, but only summarized the language of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which he employed simply to provide a legal basis for the Palestinian state. The U.S. government concluded that Arafat’s statement did not meet Washington’s demand that the PLO unequivocally recognize the State of Israel, and thus no dialogue was launched between the United States and the PLO at that time.

A further, widely publicized meeting was arranged in Stockholm by Swedish Foreign Minister Anderson with selected U.S. Jewish leaders, at which Arafat issued another statement, intended to gain American consent to open an official dialogue.

This was rejected yet again by the United States, and at a special UN General Assembly session convened to address the Palestinian issue Arafat failed yet again to utter the language required by the U.S. Only after inordinate pressure exerted on him did he then begrudgingly issue a statement approximating what the U.S. had sought. Even the descriptive characterization of Resolution 181 was not repeated in the final version issued by Arafat.

The significance of this historical account is that the PNC declaration of independence and Arafat’s account of its substance in Stockholm did not satisfy the requirements of the United States at that time for opening a diplomatic dialogue.

Secretary Kerry’s attempt to represent these events as proof that the Palestinian leadership has already recognized Israel as the Jewish state is a clear distortion of the historical record.

In fact, what Arafat appears to have said in the clip is completely false. The Palestinian National Council has not accepted the Jewish state. It would be incorrect to infer otherwise.

The opposite is in fact the case. The “Palestinian National Charter,” the founding document of the “moderate” Fatah organization, as ratified by the Sixth General Assembly of the Fatah Movement in Bethlehem in August 2009, which elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to head the organization, approved a plan that included the principle of “absolute irrevocable opposition to recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state,’ to protect the rights of refugees and the rights of our people [Israeli Arabs] beyond the Green Line.”2

In numerous statements over the past weeks, and true to the mandate of the Palestinian National Charter, Palestinian leaders and spokesmen have been repeating ad nauseam their principled refusal to agree to acknowledge Israel’s character as the nation state of the Jewish People. This is not a mere political whim, but represents a strategic Palestinian position aimed at preventing, by such recognition, any future attempt to deny a potential future mass-influx of Palestinians into the State of Israel in apparent realization of a perceived “right of return.”


Shaul Rosenfield wrote the following about the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state:

“The explanation for the strategic Palestinian insistence (rather than tactical, as some Israelis conveniently portray it) not to recognize a Jewish state or the Jewish nation-state stems of course from the fear that it will greatly damage the refugees’ claim to return to Israel proper, but it also stems just as much from the simple fact that Abbas, like the rest of the senior PA officials, is part of a long Palestinian reality which denies that the Jews are a national group entitled to its own state.


None of them has really given up on their years-long ambition that the State of Israel as such will be overpowered, whether by sword or by demography, and of course with the loyal help of the local progressive forces.

In the entire Palestinian ethos and literature there is not a shred of real willingness for such a recognition. This literature is bursting since 1948 with discussions about “the Palestinian problem,” with explanations about the horrible sin in the establishment of Israel, and about how justified it is to remove it from this world, and to the same extent about how the Jews are a religious ethnic group, rather than a people or a nation.

That is, of course, the spirit in the firm and abiding Palestinian treaty as well – as opposed to the Palestinians’ fabrications that it was canceled in 1996. Article 20 of the treaty, for example, states that “Judaism as a heavenly religion is not a self-existing nationality, and the Jews are not one people with an independent personality, but citizens in the states they belong to.”

Robert Sattlof writing for The Washington Institute pointed out that Abbas’ and Arafat’s denial of the Jewish history in the land of Israel contradicts a 1924 recognition of this history by the first Palestinian leader Hajj al-Amin Husseini and the Supreme Muslim Council of Jerusalem:

“On my desk sits a replica of a tourist guide printed in 1924 by the Supreme Muslim Council of Jerusalem, the highest Muslim communal body in Palestine. Thousands of travelers to the Holy Land in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s learned from this guide that Solomon’s Temple, the holiest site in Judaism, was located on the site now occupied by the Haram al-Sharif, or “Noble Enclosure,” which includes the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The fact that the head of the Supreme Muslim Council was Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Britain-appointed mufti of Jerusalem and father of Palestinian nationalism who later infamously collaborated with the Nazis, lent special credence to this statement of Muslim recognition of historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem”.


He furthermore explained what the reasoning behind the Israeli demand is:

“Reasonably enough, Palestinians are asking today why Israel insists on them recognizing its status as the “Jewish state,” when past Israeli leaders did not make this demand in peace talks with Egypt or Jordan. The reason is because conflicts with those countries were, by the time of peace talks, essentially territorial disputes, resolved through the equitable drawing of boundaries and the creation of mutually satisfactory security arrangements.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeper — it is existential. While many Palestinians suspect that Israel will forever deny them independence, deep in the minds of many Israelis is the idea that Palestinians have a long-term plan to destroy Israel. Formal recognition of Israel as the rightful national home of the Jewish people, which would exist side by side with the rightful national home of the Palestinian people, would go far toward calming such fears. The fact that Abbas still refuses to offer this recognition only deepens those fears.”

Ari Shavit writing for Ha’aretz gave four reasons why Israel must be recognized as the Jewish State by the Palestinians. But his most compelling argument was this one:

“It is required to demand they (the Palestinians) recognize this: that the Jewish people is a people of this land, and it did not arrive here from Mars. It is necessary to demand of them to admit that the Jewish people has a history of its own and a tragedy of its own and its own justification. The Palestinians must concede that the Jews are not colonialists but legal neighbors. There will not be peace if the children growing up in the Deheisheh refugee camp will not know that the country across the border is a legitimate Jewish state of a true Jewish people, whom they are decreed to live with. It is those who give up on the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state who are actually giving up on peace.”

Dror Eydar a columinist at Israel Hayom put it this way:

“Here, Mr. Kerry, is the rationale for the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state: They will continue to demand that refugees return even after a deal is signed and turn the parts of Israel around the Green Line into a binational state. Abbas and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat both voted in favor of the plan.

And here is a quote from the Palestinian platform that thus far, despite repeated promises, has not been changed: “Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.” The Jews are not a people but a religion, and therefore have no national rights. Clear and simple. Just read it.

The insistence upon recognition of a Jewish state isn’t meant for us. We don’t need recognition from Ramallah. The call to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is intended to block the PLO’s progressive tactic in which each territory it receives serves as the base for the next demand. And not recognition in empty words, but a requirement that this recognition make its way into the Palestinian school studies and media. As of now, the state of Israel doesn’t exist in the PA. So the Israeli insistence on recognition is non-negotiable. Without this, it is better to maintain the status quo. The so-called threat that without a diplomatic deal Israel’s situation will worsen has been made for a hundred years already. Don’t try to scare us. We’ve managed all right so far”.

Jerusalem Post’ columnist Caroline Glick who has already abandoned the Two State Solution wrote the following:

In reality, the reason that the conflict began, and the reason it continues to this day is because the Arabs writ large, including the Palestinians, and the Islamic political world reject all Jewish rights – to peoplehood and to national self-determination.

The PLO ‘s 1964 charter, posted on the group’s UN Mission’s website, sums up the prejudiced sentiment thus: “Judaism, because it is a divine religion, is not a nationality with independent existence. Furthermore, the Jews are not one people with an independent personality because they are citizens to their states.”

Supported by the Arab and Islamic worlds, the PLO ‘s fight is not about establishing an Arab state next to the Jewish state. It is about destroying the Jewish state, because, as far as the PLO and its supporters are concerned, Jews have no right to self-determination.

One fundamental issue was not addressed by these commentators. That was the question why exactly the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Islamic political world as a whole reject the notion of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Professor Mustafa Abu Sway, an Islamic scholar and director of the Islamic Research Centre of Al Quds University answered this question in his book “Oslo and the lessons of failure”.

Sway comes to the conclusion that recognition of the state of Israel on 78% percent of Palestine is impossible for Muslims.

From the point of view of Islamic law (Sharia) the existence of Israel is illegal. The allocation of the land of Israel to the people of Israel is not relevant anymore according to Islam, he wrote. Why? Because the contemporary Jewish Israelis are a community of non believers and therefore they can not claim the land, according to Sway.

This is the core of the conflict and the reason why the Palestinians are not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

About the Author
Yochanan Visser is a freelance journalist and director of Missing Peace Information, an independent news agency. He wrote a book about the cognitive war against Israel in the Dutch language. In December 2014 he became the Middle East Correspondent of Western Arizona USA
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