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Obama to Palestinians: Accept the Jewish State

This will likely be Obama's most important, most lasting and most constructive contribution to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.
Abbas dumps on Obama for wanting to strike Assad's regime, In picture: Abbas with his friend President Obama in Ramallah in 2008

Abbas dumps on Obama for wanting to strike Assad's regime, In picture: Abbas with his friend President Obama in Ramallah in 2008
Photo Credit: Issam Rimawi / FLASH90

One key shift in U.S. policy was overlooked in the barrage of news about Barack Obama’s eventful fifty-hour visit to Israel last week. That would be the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, called by Hamas leader Salah Bardawil “the most dangerous statement by an American president regarding the Palestinian issue.”

First, some background: Israel’s founding documents aimed to make the country a Jewish state. Modern Zionism effectively began with the publication in 1896 of Theodor Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”). The Balfour Declaration of 1917 favors “a national home for the Jewish people.” U.N. General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947, partitioning Palestine into two, mentions the termJewish state 30 times. Israel’s Declaration of Establishment of 1948 mentions Jewish state 5 times, as in “we … hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Because of this tight connection, when Arab-Israeli diplomacy began in earnest in the 1970s, the Jewish state formulation largely disappeared from view; everyone simply assumed that diplomatic recognition of Israel meant accepting it as the Jewish state. Only in recent years did Israelis realize otherwise, as Israeli Arabs came to accept Israel but reject its Jewish nature. For example, an important 2006 publication from the Mossawa Center in Haifa, The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel, proposes that the country become a religiously neutral state and joint homeland. In brief, Israeli Arabs have come to see Israel as a variant of Palestine.

Awakened to this linguistic shift, winning Arab acceptance of Israel no longer sufficed; Israelis and their friends realized that they had to insist on explicit Arab acceptance of Israel as the Jewish state. In 2007, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert announced that unless Palestinians did so, diplomacy would be aborted: “I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state,” he emphasized. The Palestinian Authority immediately and unanimously rejected this demand. Its head, Mahmoud Abbas, responded: “In Israel, there are Jews and others living there. This we are willing to recognize, nothing else.”

Only six weeks ago, Abbas again blasted the Jewish state concept. The Palestinian rejection of Jewish statehood could not be more emphatic. (For a compilation of their assertions, see “Recognizing Israel as the Jewish State: Statements” at DanielPipes.org).

When Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded Olmert as prime minister in 2009, he reiterated this demand as a precondition to serious negotiations: “Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples.” The Palestinians not only refused to budge but ridiculed the very idea. Again, Abbas: “What is a ‘Jewish state?’ We call it the ‘State of Israel.’ You can call yourselves whatever you want. But I will not accept it. … It’s not my job to … provide a definition for the state and what it contains. You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the Socialist [Republic] call it whatever you like, I don’t care.”

American politicians, including both George W. Bush and Obama, have since 2008 occasionally referred to Israel as the Jewish state, even as they studiously avoided demanding Palestinians to do likewise. In a typical declaration, Obama in 2011 sketched the ultimate diplomatic goal as “two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”

That sentence breaks important new ground and cannot readily be undone. It also makes for excellent policy, for without such recognition, Palestinian acceptance of Israel is hollow, indicating only a willingness to call the future state they dominate “Israel” rather than “Palestine.” Then, in his Jerusalem speech last week, Obama suddenly and unexpectedly adopted in full the Israeli demand: “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state.”

While not the only shift in policy announced during Obama’s trip (another: telling the Palestinians not to set preconditions for negotiations), this one looms largest because it starkly contravenes the Palestinian consensus. Bardawil may hyperbolically assert that it “shows that Obama has turned his back to all Arabs” but those ten words in fact establish a readiness to deal with the conflict’s central issue. They likely will be his most important, most lasting, and most constructive contribution to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

Originally published at the Washington Times and Danielpipes.org, MArch 26, 2013.

About the Author: Daniel Pipes is a world-renowned Middle East and Islam expert. He is President of the Middle East Forum. His articles appear in many newspapers. He received his A.B. (1971) and Ph.D. (1978) from Harvard University and has taught at Harvard, Pepperdine, the U.S. Naval War College, and the University of Chicago. He is a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace and other institutions. His website is DanielPipes.org.


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4 Responses to “Obama to Palestinians: Accept the Jewish State”

  1. Why Abbas Cannot Recognize Israel as a Jewish State: Among the “Palestinian papers” released to the world via wikileaks, there is one called “ Talking Points on Recogntion [sic] of Jewish State.” In this paper the Palestinian Authority spokesperson details the reasons for not accepting Israel as a Jewish state.

    Among them : “Recognizing the Jewish state implies recognition of a Jewish people and recognition of its right to self-determination….Those who assert this right also assert that the territory historically associated with this right of self-determination (i.e., the self-determination unit) is all of Historic Palestine. Therefore, recognition of the Jewish people and their right of self-determination may lend credence to the Jewish people’s claim to all of Historic Palestine.”.

    The core issue in the conflict: The issue of Israel’s existence as a Jewish State is the very core of the conflict. If Abbas, or any other Muslim leader for that matter, were to agree that Israel is a Jewish state, he would be in opposition to the Islamic religious concepts of “defense of Muslim lands” and of non-Muslims as dhimmi.

    The Muslim religious apartheid ideology of the supremacy of Islam. If Abbas were to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state, then he would have acknowledged that Jews have the right to political self-determination and national self-realization, just what he claims for the Palestinians, and just what the Qur’anic concept of dhimmitude denies to Jews. Arab leaders don’t want to do that because that would strengthen the Israeli argument for Israel’s just demand of those same rights (FrontPage Magazin, July 26, 2011).

    Shmuel Trigano: The Open Racism Of The Future State Of Palestine: "The Palestinian Authority is building a racist regime based on the principle of establishing an apartheid between a Palestine untainted by Jewish blood and a mixed State of Israel.

    According to the draft constitution of the planned state, Palestine proper would be Arab and Islamic: "This constitution is based on the will of Palestinian-Arab people" (Article 1), "the Palestinian people are a part of the Arab and Islamic nation" (Article 2), "sovereignty belongs to the Palestinian Arab people" (Article 10), "the legal character of the Arab-Palestinian people will be embodied by the state" (Article 13), "Islam will be the official religion of the state" (Article 6).

  2. Yechiel Baum says:

    It is time to remove the name the Islamic Republic of… TO ALL COUNTRIES THAT HAVE IT IN THEIR OFFICIAL NAME AND ALSO THE cHRISTIAN vATICAN.

  3. I WILL BE KEYNOTE SPEAKER AT CONGREGATION SONS OF ISRAEL IN MANALAPAN, MONDAY NIGHT APRIL 8 AT 7:30 and will not participate in the interfaith program. ALL ARE INVITED. I AM SPEAKING FREE OF CHARGE. The Imam said he would join with me declaring that here in America there is no room for Muslims callings Jews apes and for the destruction of the Jewish people as Morsi of Egypt did. This promise to me was never fulfilled. MY AGREEING FOR THE IMAM TO LEAVE BEFORE HATIKVAH WAS BASED ON HIS FULFILLING THIS PROMISE.

    I have resigned from the Metuchen-Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association due to this. For you who are new, to the association, I served as President and Vice President in the past and chaired many programs. It hurts me greatly that I had to make this decision. I wish you all the best of success. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  4. According to the the contradictory late speech of the President of the USA, the Jewish people now has a historical right and a biblical connection to the land of Israel — at the same time as the territories belong to the ”Palestinian” Arabs:

    ”But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished.

    It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.” (Obama’s Speech in Israel).

    International law expert Professor Eugene V. Rostow, a key draftee of the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242, examining the claim for Arab Palestinian self-determination on the basis of law, concluded : "The Mandate [for Palestine] implicitly denies Arab claims to national political rights in the area in favor of the Jews; the mandated territory was in effect reserved to the Jewish people for their self-determination and political development, in acknowledgment of the historic connection of the Jewish people to the land. Lord Curzon, who was then the British Foreign Minister, made this reading of the mandate explicit.

    There remains simply the theory that the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have an inherent 'natural law' claim to the area. Neither customary international law nor the United Nations Charter acknowledges that every group of people claiming to be a nation has the right to a state of its own." [italics by author]

    Political rights to self-determination as a polity for Arabs, were guaranteed by the League of Nations in four other mandates – in Lebanon and Syria [The French Mandate], Iraq and later Trans-Jordan [The British Mandate] (Myths and Facts, Eli E. Hertz).

    The Palestinian National Charter, Articles 3, 19-20 claims that only the Palestinian Arabs possess a legal right to selfdetermination, and denies the very right of self-determination to Jews.

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