Should the Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State? A Constructive Debate.

In Haaretz, my fruitful exchange/debate with Palestinian writer Aziz Abu Sarah on whether the Palestinians should accept Israel as a Jewish state.

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.

To read read the rest of the debate click here. As always, if the spirit moves you, please share your thoughts and repost.

9 responses to “Should the Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State? A Constructive Debate.

  1. interesting

  2. One should be careful of confusing a relationship with a case. You sought a relationship with Aziz and thus agreed to his condition of Israeli responsibility for a catastrophe that the Palestinians brought on themselves, but desperately want to pin on Israel so as not to have to take responsibility. While Israelis and their supporters are taking responsibility for almost everything, Palestinians are taking responsibility for nothing at all. How can that possibly be? It isn’t.
    Why don’t you take the initiative and ask Aziz to stop the Palestinian terrorism that has taken place for 100 years, well before the 1967 “occupation” and even before the partition. This will make Israelis trust the Palestinians, because looking at other non-Muslims in the Middle East, none of them are permitted to do too well. There simply is no precedent for equality with non-Muslims. That is why Israel needs to be recognized as a Jewish state, because there is a suspicion that Muslims see the entire land as theirs, with no place for Jews, just as there is no place for Jews at all in Jordan and hardly a place in Egypt, not in Lebanon, nor Syria, nor Saudi, not even Dubai. So there is ample reason for doubt as to whether Muslims will ever accept Jews in the Israel portion of what was once Greater Palestine. The fears of the local reps of the 350 million Arabs and 1.3 billion Muslims (Palestinian Arabs) do not need assuaging, but the fear of 6 million Jews in this Arab and Muslim sea, do.

  3. Dear Mr. Roi,

    I have read your debate with Mr. Abu Sarah about whether Israel should be Recognised as a Jewish State or not by Palestinians.
    I would like to confirm the following points to you.
    1- As a palestinian muslims, living in palestine I have full respect to all human beings living in this part of the world.
    2- As a palestinian, having so many (Jewish) and Israelis friends, I do not agree with your idea of calling Isreal a Jewish state, because we muslims christians and Jews have been living togather for thousands of years in this land and we intend to do so for as long as we can.
    3- The political problem or occupation or call it what ever you want , does not get solved by separating the people of the same land into tow different identities.
    4- if you insist on calling state of Isreal a jewish state, immagine the palestinians will start calling Palestine as a muslim palestine? will you be happy having so many muslims around the corner?, dont you think you are pushing the people eround Isreal to be more fanatics? finally what will happen to our christian brothers, should they ask for christian Bethlehem as their country ?

    Thank you

  4. Salem. I appreciate your comments. However, please consider that the Jews makeup more than a religion but also a people.

  5. Of the three assertions, the third is the strongest. At least, it is the one concerning me the most.

    I agree with Roi that in terms of immediate effects, such a recognition will probably be good for minority rights.

    However, regardless of practical situation the ideal of Arabs in Israel, the ideal of a Jewish state does beg the question: what of the others? Maybe they can work and live and eat and sleep and ignore the state. Ignore the fact that the State is not there for them. Citizenship is just a bureaucracy. The real club is one that they are not members of. The state performs its duties towards citizens but its purpose is not Israeli citizens it Jews and Judaism.

    Kahane would have put this menacingly. “Do you think that Arabs enjoy living in a state where ‘the heart of a Jew’ is the theme of the anthem? Would you?” A Jewish State is qualitatively different from a majority Jewish State. It takes on a raison d etre outside of its citizens, one which excludes some.

    This is a real issue inherent in Zionism and many other political ideologies, expressed or implied. Pakistan is explicitly not for Hindus. Most countries have a distinction between residents and citizens. In Israel we have residents, citizens and Jews.

    The noteworthy point in favour of Roi’s position is that the PA could go along with this simply by granting Israel the ability to choose as they wish. Accept Israeli sovereignity over Israel and this as derived from it.

  6. I would just like to commend you on having such a fascinating discussion in sucha public way the way you have.

    I think that it is important for ordinary individuals to have these types of difficult discussions because in the end, it will be ordinary people that need to live together in peace, not just their governments.

    I thank you for your efforts and hope to see more of them in the future.

  7. Pingback: Should the Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State? A Constructive Debate. | JewPI

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