A stupid demand
We exist, and we are a Jewish state. The Arab countries that attacked after Israel's Declaration of Independence did so because it was a Jewish state.
Forty years ago, Yaakov Herzog (brother of Israel's sixth president, Chaim Herzog) was invited by the BBC to take part in a symposium. The subject: What Are Israel's Chances of Survival? Herzog, shocked by the choice of topic, declined to participate but said if they ever held a symposium on Britain's chances of survival, he would be glad to attend.
Who would believe that 32 years after Herzog's death, and 60 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, which is still here despite all those who sought its downfall, the leaders of this country are demanding to be recognized as a Jewish state? And by whom? By the Palestinians, who flatly turned down the Partition Plan approved by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, and have done everything they possibly can to remain stateless to this day.
After the Oslo Accords that Yasser Arafat fumbled, and after two intifadas that left a trail of bodies on both sides, they are still without a state of their own. It seemed as if Ariel Sharon's nod to the Palestinians in evacuating Gush Katif would convince them that Israel was sobering up from its dream of a Greater Israel, that it was open to a peace agreement, including concessions that would make it possible for the Palestinians to finally adopt the UN resolution giving them a state of their own.
I won't repeat here all the preparations being made in advance of the Annapolis summit, the details of which appear daily in the media. We know that we are facing a weak leadership, but neither do they have a sense of Israel's leadership being all-powerful. The infighting between Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, and the doubts about the ability of the present government to move tens of thousands of settlers into the blocs set out in a future agreement, are not exactly projecting a message to the other side that its expectations can be met.
Olmert believes that both sides, no matter how weak, realize that the chances of reaching an agreement outweigh the obstacles. Let's say we don't make peace, says Olmert, and two years from now, Hamas becomes the ruling power in the West Bank. So what are people going to say? That we didn't see the danger? That we sat on the sidelines and did nothing to prevent it?
Olmert and Barak, who are more in sync than one would think, based on the media leaks and the flying insults, do not delude themselves that Israel will be sitting at the table with a strong Palestinian leadership. But they know that right now, that's all there is. The talks will be conducted the way porcupines make love: v-e-r-y carefully. Neither side wants to get President Bush hot under the collar. Neither side wants to be blamed for the failure of the summit, which is shaping up as a kind of multi-delegation, global conference orchestrated by the president of the United States.
And then we wake up one morning to the announcement by the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who says the PA is planning to recognize Israel's right to exist (well, thank you, Mr. Erekat), but "will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state." You read that statement over and over, and try not to explode. Especially at our stupidity at even making the demand that they recognize for us our Jewishness. Who are they? The Chief Rabbinate? The Council of Torah Sages?
Israel's Declaration of Independence reads: "By virtue of our natural and historic right, and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, [we] hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." Eight hours after this declaration, two Egged buses were attacked, an attack snuffing out the lives of the first seven victims of the War of Independence.
The ever-present threat against the very fact of Israel's existence is what has caused, or at least encouraged, the expansion into the territories by tens of thousands of settlers. It is this threat that eggs on the Jewish extremists and has turned this country, which has longed so much to live in peace, into a country of occupiers.
We exist, and we are a Jewish state. The whole world has recognized us as a Jewish state. The Arab countries that attacked after Israel's Declaration of Independence did so because it was a Jewish state. We made peace with Egypt and Jordan in spite of being a Jewish state. If there is anyone who needs recognition, it's the Palestinians. Their leaders over the generations have goaded them into hating Jews and killing Jews, which has gone on without stopping, but left them without a state of their own.
This demand that they "recognize" us as a Jewish state, even if the cabinet votes in favor of it at the insistence of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is like denying the legitimacy of our own national existence - as if we need them to reinforce the identity of the state.
How does such a smart country come up with such a stupid demand?