On Sunday June 14th, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his long awaited speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of the many controversial statements in his address, I wanted to focus on the idea of the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the State of the Jewish people.
From Netanyahu's 6/14/09 Speech:* Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way. * The Palestinian leadership must arise and say: "Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace."
I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be.* Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. * I have already stressed the first principle - recognition. Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
In peace agreements between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, there was official recognition of the State of Israel. The September 1993 letter from PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated "The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security". None of the parties had to recognize Israel as the official state of the Jewish people, and recognition was not a pre-condition to negotiations.
From The Camp David Accords of 1978:
C. Associated Principles
2. Signatories shall establish among themselves relationships
normal to states at peace with one another. To this end,
they should undertake to abide by all the provisions of
U.N. Charter. Steps to be taken in this respect include:
A. Full Recognition;
From The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979:
1. The Parties will apply between them the provisions of the
Charter of the United Nations and the principles of
international law governing relations among the states in
times of peace. In particular:
a. They recognize and will respect each other's sovereignty,
territorial integrity and political independence
b. They recongnize and will respect each other's right to
live in peace within their secure and recognized
From the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace 1994:
Article 2: General Principles
The Parties will apply between them the provisions of the
Charter of the United Nations and the principles of
international law governing relations among states in
times of peace. In particular:
1. They recognise and will respect each other's
sovereignty, territorial integrity and political
2. They recognise and will respect each other's right
to live in peace within secure and recognised
However, after Hamas won a majority of seats in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative elections, there was the beginning of changes to this dynamic. The Quartet (U.S, E.U.,Russia, and the U.N.) established recognition of Israel as one of the pre-conditions to the resumption of negotiations.
It is the view of the Quartet that all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.
Later in 2006, two Congressional Bills, H.R. 4681 (sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R,FL-18)) and S. 2370 (sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R,KY)) added the concept of "recognition plus" to the equation. Now, not only was there to be recognition of the state of Israel prior to any resumption of U.S. assistance, but the recongition had to include Israel as a Jewish state.
From H.R. 4681 (Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006):
Sec. 2: Limitation on Assistance to the Palestinian Authority
(a) Declaration of policy- It shall be the policy of the
(4) To promote the emergence of a democratic Palestinian
governing authority that--
(H)has agreed to recognize the State of Israel as an
independent, sovereign, Jewish, democratic state
From S. 2370 (Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006):
Sec. 2: Limitation on Assistance to the Palestian Authority (PA)
Sec. 620K. Limitation On Assistance To The PA
(b) Certification- A certification described in this
subsection is a certification transmitted by the
President to Congress that contains a determination
of the President that--
(1) no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the
Palestinian Authority is effectively controlled
by Hamas, unless Hamas has--
(A) publicly acknowledged Israel's right to
exist as a Jewish state;
Note: The final reconciled Bill changed subsection (A) to "publicly acknowledged the Jewish state of Israel's right to exist"
In the fall of 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert then introduced this idea of pre-conditional "recognition plus" to the Palestinians during the final negotiations prior to the Annapolis Conference.
From Jerusalem Post 11/15/07:
Opposition from Palestinian leaders to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the "state of the Jews" intensified on Wednesday, threatening to derail the planned post-Annapolis attempt to renew substantive peace negotiations.
Nonetheless, Olmert - who reiterated on Wednesday that there could be no such talks without explicit Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state
Olmert has stressed repeatedly in recent days that there can be no negotiations whatsoever between Israel and the Palestinians until they acknowledge that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and that he has made this clear to both the Palestinians and the Americans in the run-up to the Annapolis summit scheduled for the end of the month.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday, following Olmert's meeting with visiting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Olmert "referred to Israel's insistence that the foundation for the post-Annapolis negotiations with the Palestinians be recognition of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people."
Olmert, the statement went on, "made it clear that from Israel's point of view, this issue is not subject to either negotiations or discussion."
Earlier this week, Olmert declared that "Israel is a state of the Jewish people. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me."
In February 2008, The Jewish Council Of Public Affairs (JCPA), an umbrella organization of more than 100 Jewish Community Relation Councils and fourteen national Jewish organizations, passed a resolution on the Middle East peace process and took up this idea of special recognition.
From the Resolution:
The JCPA believes that:* In fulfillment of its obligations under Phase I of the Roadmap, and to help build Israeli confidence, the Palestinian Authority should immediately end all its official media messages denying Israel's right to exist and should instead begin preparing its people for peaceful coexistence with its neighbor Israel as the Homeland of the Jewish people. * The organized American Jewish community should support the Government of Israel's insistence that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish State.
In April 2009, newly sworn-in Prime Minister Netanyahu, at a meeting with U.S. Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, mentioned that his government would condition talks over Palestinian statehood on the Paletinians first recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
From Haaretz 4/16/09:
"Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples," a senior official in Netanyahu's office quoted the new prime minister as telling Mitchell, U.S. President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East.
Another Israeli official said Netanyahu saw Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as "a crucial element in moving forward with the political dialogue".
The Palestinian perspective reveals that there is much anguish and anger over recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and using that as a pre-requisite for resumption of the peace process.
Palestinians and Arabs have three major problems with the Israeli demand to be recognized as a Jewish state. The first is that such recognition will undermine and further marginalize the position of the non-Jewish minorities in Israel, especially the Palestinian minority, which constitutes 20 percent of the population, but also of what appears to be a significant Christian minority among recent Russian immigrants.
The second problem is that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state will augment the Israeli position against Palestinian refugees' right of return to the lands and homes from which they were systematically and violently ejected in 1948.
The third problem with the concept of the Jewish state is that it's seen by many people, including Palestinians and Arabs, to be a racist concept that contradicts the modern notion of democratic political systems based on the equal and basic rights of all citizens of the state, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations.
Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Israeli Knesset representing the United Arab List-Ta'al party, which was nearly barred from running in Israel's last election:
Netanyahu's speech is a deceptive attempt to bypass Obama's call for a complete settlement freeze. He said nothing new, but instead reiterated the racist demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This is not only racist, but will give Israel the excuse to discriminate against more than 20 percent of its population. I hope the Americans see the speech for the deception that it is.
Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel:
"In his speech, Netanyahu put forth all the obstacles for reaching any reconciliation. First, when he spoke of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state he neglected the status of Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel as equal citizens of the state, and therefore, he relegated them to second-class citizenship status.
The demands to recognize Israel as a Jewish state- annuls the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were systemically and violently expelled in 1948 in what is now Israel-a right enshrined in international law and at the heart of the Palestinian struggle.
Such a state one would promote, subsidize, and allow Jewish only immigration and rights as it does now while denying native inhabitants this same right.
Nations are quick to dismiss the Palestinian right of return as Israel’s end, but equally quick to facilitate the return of Darfur, Kosovar, or East Timor refugees in recent years.
This demand also consolidates Israel’s racist Apartheid like policies, and would dismiss in one fell swoop the rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel, who make up 20% of the population.
It is effectively saying: we have the right to discriminate against you, to take any measures we deem necessary in order to sustain the Jewish majority. Measures that have already been suggested in the Knesset, like a loyalty oath, even population transfer.
From a June 15, 2009 Haaretz article:
From the PA's perspective, Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is almost humiliating, and it is highly unlikely to be realized. For the Palestinians, the repetition of this demand is an excuse on Netanyahu's part to avoid a peace agreement.
From the information mentioned earlier, Israel did not need this special recognition to start or complete negotiations with Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO. This concept of pre-conditional "recognition plus" appears to have been crafted by certain U.S. and Israeli officials after the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006. Knowing any Palestinian government would not accept these demands, it was a sure way of preventing the continuation of the peace process in case the members of the Quartet perceived any positive change in the Palestinian's military or political behavior. Since then, the demand has come up whenever Israeli officials, or their American supporters, are aware of a large and sustained international push for the resumption of negotiations.
Presently, Prime Minister Netanyahu is claiming to have no pre-conditions to resuming talks with the Palestinians. However, the requirements mentioned in his speech, which are offensive to Palestinian citizens and officials, appear to contradict his willingness to resume negotiations unconditionally. These ideas will certainly make it much more difficult for President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Special Envoy Mitchell to get Palestinian and Israeli officials together.
For the security of the peoples of many nations, inside and outside of the Middle East, Americans need to find ways to remove this ill-conceived idea of pre-conditonal "recognition plus".
- If you are a member of any of the organizations within the JCPA, e-mail or call. Here is a list of members and their contact information for National Agencies and local JCRCs.
- Contact your elected officials by calling the Toll-Free Capital Switchboard, (800)828-0498 or (877)762-8762, or by finding their e-mail information at the House and Senate websites.
- Contact, learn about, join, and support the various D.C. organizations that are actively working on this issue and many others in order to help create a just peace for the peoples of Israel and Palestine:
Americans For Peace Now
Israel Policy Forum
Arab American Institute
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Churches For Middle East Peace
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Voice For Peace
American Task Force On Palestine
U.S. Campaign To End The Occupation