Should the Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State?
By Roi Ben-Yehuda and Aziz Abu Sarah
Ever since his June speech at Bar-Ilan University, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that peace with the Palestinians is conditioned on the latter accepting Israel as a Jewish state.
During his much-lauded address at the United Nations, Netanyahu reiterated his position:
“We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. As simple, as clear, as elementary as that. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
The Palestinians, for their part, have rejected Netanyahu’s position. Their claim rests on three assertions: It is not the business of Palestinians to recognize the Jewish nature of Israel. Such recognition would endanger the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Acknowledging the Jewish state would negate the Palestinian right of return.
So, should the Palestinians accept a Jewish State? Israeli and Palestinian writers Roi Ben-Yehuda and Aziz Abu Sarah got together to explore the topic. The following is their exchange.
Ben-Yehuda: Aziz, I am happy to have the opportunity for this exchange with you. I will start off this discussion by stating that I think Netanyahu’s position (which was first articulated by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni) is a good one.
I support this position because it provides the Palestinians a real opportunity to put their cards on the table: To state in an unequivocal fashion that they are ready to make peace with Israel, i.e. to renounce the right of return which is incompatible with a two-state solution.
I also support this position because recognizing Israel as a Jewish state will go a long way toward allaying some of the basic existential fears of the Israeli people. In so doing, it will enable the government to conduct negotiations without fearing that concessions will lead to loss of identity or security (not to mention loss of political power back home).
I say this as an unapologetic Zionist and peacenik – as someone who believes that both the Jews and the Palestinians by virtue of being a people with deep historic ties to the land have a right to a state in part of Israel/Palestine.
Abu Sarah: Roi, you are right that recognition is important to allay the fears of Israelis, but Netanyahu’s demand is not a fair request. Palestinians still don’t even have a state as a direct result of Israel’s creation and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank. Equal recognition means the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to existence and Israeli recognition of Palestinians’ right to a state.
Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would require a change of the Palestinian narrative and identity and would affect the rights of Palestinians citizens of Israel. Furthermore, such recognition before a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would dishonor the suffering of these refugees. Palestinians would be accepting the right of return of Jews who never lived in the land over those who were expelled from it.
Israel has peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, yet neither of them had to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. These agreements have been successful regardless.
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