When peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) resumed 29 July, following a three-year hiatus, some people saw this as reason for optimism. But the talks seem to have foundered over a new condition set by Israel.To make peace with the Palestinians, the rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu insists on the Palestinians recognising “the Jewishness of the State of Israel”.This request may seem innocuous on the face of it, but for those in the know, the implications can be immense for millions of non-Jewish Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank, and other parts of the world.
The Israeli request, on which the talks may ultimately collapse, has the backing of US Secretary of State John Kerry who is brokering the ongoing bid for a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the Palestinians, both government and opposition, have dug in their heels, and they are not making a secret of their shock that this condition — which was never part of any Arab-Israeli talks in the past — has been brought to the negotiating table.PA President Mahmoud Abbas voiced the Palestinian position in no uncertain terms. He said that the Palestinians have no intention of recognising the Jewishness of the State of Israel.
Speaking to a group of Jerusalem dignitaries in his Ramallah offices last Saturday, Abbas said: “We will not recognise nor accept the Jewishness of Israel. The Israelis say that if we don’t recognise the Jewishness of Israel, there will be no solution. And we say that we will not recognise nor accept it.”The Palestinian president added: “It is our right not to recognise the Jewishness of the state. We have arguments and reasons to reject such a condition, which only came up two years ago. And we presented these arguments to Israel. The Israelis have a problem, which is that we know all about them and we know history and geography. We have it all stored in our memory. And we will not accept the Jewishness of Israel.”Abbas reiterated the call on Israel to withdraw to the borders of 1967.On his recent regional tour, Kerry put a lot of pressure on Abbas to agree to a “framework agreement” involving Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of Israel, according to Palestinian sources.
Kerry went as far as telling the Palestinians that the Jewishness of the State of Israel is not only an Israeli request, but also the position of the US administration.The Palestinians refused to bow to pressure.Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Maliki, speaking on official Palestinian radio, said that the US secretary of state is trying to pressure the Palestinians into accepting the “Jewishness” of Israel through Arab countries. “This is not going to happen,” the Palestinian official said.Al-Maliki, who attended the meeting Kerry held with a delegation of Arab foreign ministers in Paris on Sunday, said that Kerry’s ideas are too close to those of the Israeli government.When he visited Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Kerry tried to convince officials in both countries of the Jewishness of Israel, according to Palestinian sources.“The Arab message to Kerry is clear. The Arabs refuse to recognise the Jewishness of the State of Israel,” Al-Maliki stated.For peace to be achieved, the Palestinian foreign minister said, the Palestinians must have East Jerusalem as their capital. He added that Israelis would not be allowed a military presence in Al-Aghwar, along the Jordan Valley, as they have insisted.Speaking to journalists in Cairo, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Al-Arabi pointed out that it was Kerry who requested a meeting with the Arab delegation formed by the Arab Summit in Doha to follow up on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
The Arab delegation includes Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Palestinians, Al-Arabi pointed out.The Palestinians have already recognised the state of Israel, as per the Oslo Accords of 1993. But recognising Israel is one thing, and recognising its “Jewishness” is another.Time was that the Americans were able to draw the line between the two things.Back in 1948, when US President Harry Truman was signing a document recognising the creation of Israel, he crossed out the term “Jewish state”, replacing it with “the State of Israel”.This is not a question of semantics, as the Palestinians point out. If they recognise the Jewishness of the State of Israel, then their entire struggle for their lost land would be de-legitimised. Some say that it may give the Israelis the right to demand reparations from Arab countries, not vice versa.Recognising the Jewishness of Israel will mean that Palestinian refugees will lose their right to return. Israeli Arabs, now totalling 1.7 million, will be at risk of extradition, as Mohamed Ashtiya, a Fatah Central Committee member, pointed out.“No Palestinian can recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This whole thing is a religious claim with political implications,” he remarked.When Egypt and Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, they were not required to recognise it as a Jewish state, Ashtiya, who lives in Ramallah, said.Speaking to journalists at the Palestinian Press House in Gaza by videoconference, Ashtiya said that if the Palestinians recognise the Jewishness of the State of Israel, they would be abandoning their right of return, which is recognised by UN resolution 194 of 1948.The Palestinians, he added, are not prepared to abandon the Muslim and Christian interpretation of the Bible in favour of Israel’s views.