Netanyahu Is Not Convincing

If a Palestinian state signs a peace treaty with Israel without recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, will it be licensed to do bad things?

How did the demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state or as the nation-state of the Jewish people become Israel’s main demand? The prime minister answered this question at the end of January, at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, but his argument isn’t convincing.

He said the Palestinians had a “basic objection to any Jewish presence” – an objection that, early in the last century, “grew and resulted in the attacks in 1929 in Hebron and of course the great riots of 1936-1939.”

According to Netanyahu, “This struggle was against the very existence of the Jewish state, against Zionism or any geographic expression of it, any State of Israel in any border. The conflict is not over these territories; it is not about settlements, and it is not about a Palestinian state .... [T]his conflict has gone on because of one reason: the stubborn opposition to recognize the Jewish state, the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Indeed, the struggle was against the establishment of a Jewish state. It is beyond the scope of this article to ask if it was justified for the Jews to push aside Arab workers – for example, with “Hebrew labor,” or by the General Federation of Hebrew Laborers in the Land of Israel, and in countless other ways. It is beyond our scope to ask if there was a connection between this pushing aside and the Arabs’ refusal to agree to a Jewish state.

But Israel, which the Palestinians refused to recognize upon its founding and for many years afterward, is the country they are prepared to recognize today through a peace agreement, minus the settlements and the occupied territories.

Egypt and Jordan went to war with Israel in 1948 because, like the Palestinians, they rejected the establishment of Israel. They weren’t required to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and their recognition of Israel through peace treaties made up for their previous stance. It’s the same thing with the Palestinians.

The prime minister added that “we have been here continuously for nearly 4,000 years – 3,800 years. This is the land where our identity was forged. This is our homeland. Here is our country that was reborn. And the Palestinians must accept this.”

The birthplace of Isaac is also the birthplace of Ishmael; in any case, doesn’t Palestinian recognition of Israel mean coming to terms with “this”? Or could it be that the Palestinians are being asked by a historian’s son to erase their history and swear allegiance to Israel on the Bible? Is there anything that epitomizes the connection between the Jews and their land better than the revival of the Jewish people in their land? Is there anyone who does not understand this?

According to Netanyahu, if the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the Palestinian state that arises through a peace treaty “will continue to subvert the foundation for the existence of the Jewish state ... try to flood us with refugees ... [and] advance irredentist claims from within the State of Israel’s territory – territorial claims, national claims.”

But Netanyahu isn’t convincing. If a Palestinian state recognizes Israel and signs a peace treaty without recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, will it be able to do all these bad things? And if it recognizes it as the nation-state of the Jewish people, it won’t? Usually, when countries make a peace deal, the “subverting” stops. And if this subverting is inevitable, a piece of paper recognizing a nation-state won’t prevent it.

There are hints that in a comprehensive framework deal, there will be an agreement on the refugee issue. But it won’t be achieved by the ploy of recognizing the nation-state of the Jews. It will be achieved through negotiations.

Yes, there have been irredentist claims – by the prime minister regarding the settlements. He’s interested in Jewish irredentism in the Palestinian state. On the other hand, Arab Israelis can make national claims without anything to do with the question of the Palestinians recognizing Israel in general or as the Jewish national home. Ironically, Israel defining itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people could justify national or irredentist claims by Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Netanyahu forgot that he’s also prime minister of Arab Israelis – a fifth of all Israeli citizens. They’re not  happy with defining the state as Jewish and democratic, but this definition includes a key component regarding their connection to the state. Defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people would disconnect them from Israel at a time when we need to strengthen their connection to it.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas certainly can’t write them off by agreeing to the definition that Netanyahu demands. His responsibility toward them is no less than that of Israel to world Jewry.

If Palestinian recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people is no more valuable than simply recognizing Israel, what’s the point in asking for something that Abbas can’t agree to? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry probably understands this.