The time has come for people in Israel and the Jewish lobby in the United States – which blindly supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians publicly recognize Israel as the Jewish state as a condition for a peace agreement – to internalize U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s conclusion: “I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace.”
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In his remarks, Kerry was delicately hinting that Netanyahu’s ultimatum is not part of ensuring Israel’s interests, but rather an obstacle intended to block the chance for a peace agreement. Kerry knows – as do Netanyahu and the Palestinians – that the condition for reaching a deal is through agreements on the real core issues of the conflict: the refugees, the status of Jerusalem, borders and security arrangements. Any attempt to avoid dealing with these issues, or investment of energy in other issues, is as if no negotiations are taking place.
Netanyahu explains his uncompromising demand with catastrophic scenarios that would put Israel at risk – such as flooding Israel with refugees, and Palestinians undermining the foundations of Israel’s existence. A permanent settlement is supposed to address precisely these issues. As opposed to Netanyahu, Kerry explains his position with facts. And these negate Netanyahu’s nightmare vision.
The Palestinians have already recognized the State of Israel de facto, through Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat and then by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, the Arab peace initiative also officially recognized the State of Israel, as have Jordan and Egypt, which signed peace treaties with it. Moreover, Israel has no need of specific recognition by any country or entity. “‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in resolution 181, where there are more than 30 mentions of ‘Jewish state’,” Kerry said. Israelis and Jews everywhere, for whom the good of the State of Israel is their top priority, must stop and ask if all this is not enough.
Netanyahu’s insistence on the declaration is designed to push Abbas into an impossible position, making him turn his back on the Palestinians who live within Israel. Without entering into the history of the conflict and the question of who is more responsible for the Palestinians’ fate, Netanyahu and the right are simply ignoring the fact that the State of Israel was created on the ruins of 400 Palestinian villages and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Abbas cannot state publicly what Netanyahu is asking of him.
Negotiations and attaining a peace agreement that will, in the short-term, prevent regional violence and isolation of Israel, and in the long-term avoid a binational state with a Palestinian majority, are essential interests of the State of Israel. Netanyahu should not be allowed to abandon them with unnecessary excuses.