Israel, Abbas and Obama Haggle Over 'Jewish State'

Monday, March 17, 2014 |  Ryan Jones

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday, and to reiterated his firm refusal to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a condition for peace. Israel was waiting with bated breath to see how Obama would respond.

In case you couldn’t see, I just rolled my eyes…very slowly and conspicuously. Actually, Washington has already signaled that it will respond to this latest wave of Arab pressure precisely how it always has - by rescinding previous support for Israeli positions.

Abbas refuses to recognize Israel as the Jewish state because he is, by his own admission, still dedicated to the so-called “right of return” - the demand that Israel opens its borders to millions of Arabs claiming to be Palestinian refugees. It is a demand that even the most lovey-dovey of Israeli peaceniks find problematic, and that, as such, no Israeli government could ever agree to.

Israel insists on being recognized as a Jewish state both to preclude the aforementioned, and to finally gain legitimacy for its right to exist in the eyes of the Arab world, thereby eliminating what most Israelis see as the crux of the conflict.

The “Jewish state” thing is a point of fierce contention in Israel between those who recognize the demand's importance to genuine, long-lasting peace and those who believe Israel needs to sign with its enemies an agreement, any agreement, and that it needs to have done so yesterday.

Even within the governing coalition, the debate rages.

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would “prevent Israel from turning into a binational state,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief peace negotiator, said over the weekend. She acknowledged that getting the Palestinian Authority to go along could be beyond difficult, but insisted that Israeli leaders must not give up trying.

To give up trying is precisely what Finance Minister Yair Lapid thinks Israel should do when it comes to the “Jewish state” demand. “My father did not come from the ghetto to be recognized by the Palestinians. The entire Zionist idea is that we recognize ourselves and that’s enough,” Lapid told Channel 10 News on Friday.

Lapid sees separation from the Palestinian Arabs as the end goal of the peace process. Ironically, if his advice is followed, and if Abbas subsequently has his way, Lapid would end up with far more Palestinians in his neighborhood.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Abbas on Sunday, and repeated the oft-heard warning that “TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” Kerry reportedly told Abbas that he has just weeks to make “tough political decisions.” Unfortunately, Western power brokers have demonstrated that in their eyes, a “tough political decision” on the Palestinians’ part amounts to little more than showing up at the negotiating table.

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