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Howard Morry

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State: The Key to Unlocking Peace in the Arab-Israeli Conflict?

This article is based on a presentation given by Howard Morry, Co-chair of the Arab Jewish Dialogue, a Canadian group devoted to improving relations between Arabs and Jews through dialogue, in November, 2011.

by Howard Morry


                Just over two years ago in a speech at Bar Ilan University in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister since 1948 to publicly say that Israel was prepared to recognize a Palestinian state as part of a settlement to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to say that “a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”
The reaction of the Arab world was dismissive. This was just another obstacle to peace. What do you expect from an intransigent right wing prime minister, they said? The response from the Palestinian leadership was even more direct. Palestinians would never accept Israel as a Jewish state, even if the price was never having a Palestinian state.
While Israel had always insisted that the Arab world recognize its right to “exist”, it had never said that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was “a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict”. The Israelis, they said, were moving the goalposts for peace.
The reaction in Israel was very different. Jewish Israelis didn’t see Netanyahu’s speech as a right-wing plot to derail the peace process. Surveys showed that the vast majority of Israelis desperately want to hear the Palestinian people say they can live with a Jewish state.
In fact, since Prime Minister Netanyahu gave his speech in June, 2009, the demand that the Arab world recognize Israel as a Jewish state has gone mainstream in Israel. All major Israeli politicians now require acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for peace.
Even President Obama, who will never be mistaken for Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, has publicly said that “a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people."
The question is why did Israel make this demand, and why now? Just as important why did the Arab world react the way it did? After all doesn’t a two-state solution mean “two states for two peoples”, one of which is Jewish?
These questions lie at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict and in the view of many Israelis is the key to resolving the conflict.
Why a Jewish State?
To understand why it’s important to Israel that it be recognized as a “Jewish state”, we have to know what Israel means by the term.
Many Arabs, for example, have expressed the concern that a “Jewish state” will be a theocracy, and that Israel will use recognition as an excuse to mistreat or expel its minority population. Those concerns are misplaced. Israel simply wants its neighbours to accept that it is the “nation-state” of the Jewish people.
The right of a “people” or a “nation” to their own state is enshrined in a number of international conventions, to which most states in the world are signatories. Nation-states became popular because they allowed peoples to develop their own culture and to defend themselves against others “nations”.
Nation-states became the successors in Europe to the empires and feudal states that were accountable to an individual or family, not to a people or citizenry. The Germans, for example, were a people long before they had a state they could call their own; as were the Italians.
Even multicultural states (states that traditionally relied on immigration of peoples from different parts of the world joining with an indigenous population) forge their own identity over time. The result is that the Canadian and American people take pride in traditions, customs and values developed over decades and centuries.
By any scale the Jews are a “nation” or “people”, one of the world’s oldest, in fact, like the Japanese or the French or, for that matter, like the Palestinians. Jews everywhere share a common history and heritage and a set of values inspired by a collection of books they have studied for millennia. There is more that unites Jews than divides them.
It’s fair to ask where religion fits in. Aren’t the Jews a religious group, like Christians and Muslims? The answer is complex but key to understanding the Jewish state. The answer is the Jewish people are a people with a religion. Judaism, the Jewish religion, is part of the Jewish culture, but it is not all of it.
Part of the confusion comes from the fact that Judaism is what is called a “particular” religion in that for all practical purposes, it is only practiced by Jewish people. This was the way religions were practiced in ancient times when Judaism was established. The Greeks had the Greek gods, the Romans had the Roman gods; and the Jewish people had the Jewish God.
The way it was expressed in the Bible was that that God chose the “nation of Israel” to be his people. But whether or not one accepts revealed scripture, the fact is the Jews believed they had a special relationship with their God, and as a result they forged a culture and nation around that belief.
A nation and culture that grew to be so strong that it survived agnosticism and even atheism. Yes, Virginia, you don’t have to believe in God to be Jewish.
Islam and Christianity, on the other hand, are “universal religions”, which are open to all people. There are Italian Christians and Egyptian Christians; even Jewish Christians. That is why there are over two billion Christians and over one billion Muslims in the world today. By comparison there are only twelve million Jews.
There was a time when the people in Europe were referred to as the Christian people, but this was before the separation of church and state that took place during the Enlightenment. What used to be Christendom is now roughly speaking the West, and Christians are seen as part of a faith community, rather than as a people.
That’s not the case for Islam. There has never been an equivalent separation of mosque and state in the Muslim world. As a result Islam has developed an entire code for living a Muslim life; in both the private and public spheres. It’s not uncommon for Muslim writers to speak of the “umma” or Muslim people. Some Muslims still refer to the West as Christian and its people as Christians.
This is a critical distinction. There seems to be a widespread perception in the Arab world that the Jews are not a people at all but a religious minority. To put it another way, to many Arabs, Jews are a “people” only in the sense that Muslims are a people, not in the sense that Arabs are a people.
This is understandable in that Jews lived for centuries as a religious minority in Arab lands where Arab culture and identity was dominated by Muslim belief and custom. The Palestinian narrative has relied heavily on this limited view of the Jewish people. Their original charter stated that:
Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.
This fundamental misunderstanding over who the Jewish people are (a nation with its own culture or a minority religious group) has stood in the way of Arabs and Muslims accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state. That lack of acceptance has turned out to be a real obstacle to peace.
The Stateless Nation
Almost all nation-states have minorities, who in many ways share the majority culture but maintain their own identity. Transnational peoples (living in many countries where they don’t form the majority) often resist all efforts to assimilate them. The Kurds in the Middle East are a good example.
Which brings us back to the Jews, who for two millennia were a people or nation, with their own history, heritage and culture, living as a minority in many countries without a state of their own.
The Jewish people had a nation-state over 2,000 years ago in what is now Israel. But as every Jew knows, the ruling Romans effectively banished them from their historic homeland. For the next two thousand years the Jewish people lived among other peoples in what they called the “diaspora”.
Jews spoke their own language and practiced their own religion. They dressed in different clothes and had a different value system. They rarely assimilated with the majority peoples. Their host states also had something in common: they never fully accepted the Jewish people.
The reality is that even when Jews gained some rights, they were never fully accepted by any country until the twentieth century. The rejection of the Jewish people in its extreme form even had a name, antisemitism, and in Europe an ideology. In that ideology, Jews were the ones who killed God’s only son. As a result the Jews were blamed for everything from droughts to the black plague.
In Europe, more often than not the Jews were singled out for special treatment. This took the form of placing Jews in ghettos, restricting them to certain occupations, subjecting them to pogroms and in some cases forcing them to convert to Christianity. Antisemitism reached its apotheosis in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
By comparison Jews were often treated better in Arab lands than in Europe, but they still had a demeaning minority status. The Jews were known to Muslims through the Koran and Hadith as people of the book who distorted God’s word and rejected Islam. Historian Martin Gilbert covered this complex story with aplomb in his masterful book, In Ishmael’s House.
The reality is that in both Europe and the Middle East the Jewish people were not able to fully develop their culture. One reason was that the ways Jews saw it, the majority peoples wouldn’t allow them to live Jewish lives. Another was that Jewish culture included a place for a Jewish state in “the land of Israel”, and that state had ceased to exist.
Zionism and the Jewish State
The record shows that in every year and in every place, the Jewish people yearned to return to their homeland, “Zion” or Israel. Israel was where they forged their identity and gave the world their enduring books. Israel was where they had their first and only state.
Eventually, late in the nineteenth century, after concluding that they would never be fully accepted or secure without a state of their own, they created a movement for national self determination, called “Zionism”. The goal of Zionism was for the Jewish people to revive the nation-state of Israel in their original homeland. Israel would be reborn as a country where the Jewish people could speak their own language, practice their religion and live their lives without fear of reprisals.
In the early part of the twentieth century, the Jewish people sought support for Zionism from just about everyone with influence or power in or over the Middle East. The first waves of Zionists slowly started moving to what was then Ottoman Palestine, joining the small number of Jews who had never left Palestine, buying land, draining swamps and creating economic activity in the area.
Arabs had lived in Ottoman Palestine for hundreds of years by then and more moved in once the Jews started developing the area. There were a number of clashes between the Arabs and Jews in this uneasy period. It was left to the British, who took control of Palestine in 1917, to decide what to do with two peoples living in one land.
The situation got more complicated in 1922 when Britain (with the blessing of the League of Nations) gave three-quarters of Palestine to the Hashemite family as a reward for helping Britain in the Arab uprising against the Ottomans. Once Britain created Jordan, they had to decide what to do with the remaining land, which still had a majority of Arabs.
While they were deciding, the Second World War began and Britain made the fateful decision to close the gates of Palestine to Jews who were trying to escape Europe. They were motivated in part by Arab opposition to Jewish immigration. Britain was not alone. No country was prepared to let the Jews escape their fate in Europe.
From 1939 to 1945, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered two out of our every three Jews in Europe, including a million children. With European Jews having nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, Adolf Hitler almost succeeded in completing his “final solution to the Jewish problem”.
Two years later at the United Nations, a majority of member states passed Resolution 181, authorizing the creation of a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state” in what was left of Palestine. The member states rejected a one-state solution and opted for the two-state solution for two peoples living in one land.
It could also be said, however, that the member states of the UN concluded that thereal“final solution to the Jewish problem”, the problem of Jews living as a minority among peoples who did not fully accept them, was Zionism, a state for the Jewish people, or at least for those Jewish people who chose to live in the Jewish state.
Zionism predated the Holocaust, so we can’t say (like many critics of Israel have said) that the Holocaust led to the creation of Israel, although it undoubtedly generated sympathy for the Jewish people. We can say that if Zionism had succeeded by 1933, there may not have been a Holocaust.
It was up to the Jewish people living in Palestine to declare their state, which they did on May 14, 1948. It is instructive to read how the founders of Israel justified the birth of the “Jewish state” in their Declaration of Independence, which reads in part as follows:
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom…Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland…
This right [of self determination] is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.
Zionists see Israel as their historic homeland, where they are able to and live a normal life, side by side with citizens who belong to other cultures and traditions. At the same time Israel gives its minority citizens, the vast majority of whom are Arab Muslims, all the civil and human rights protection that minorities are given in the West.
So what is the Jewish state? Put simply, it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.
What does the Jewish State mean in practice?
In many ways Israel is indistinguishable from other countries.
It is well known that Israel has matured into a first-world country, with a $250 billion a year economy and a GDP per capita just behind Spain and Italy. Israel has world class universities and technology companies. It registers more patents each year than Japan. It is producing Nobel Prize winning research.
Israel has a robust democracy, with a separation of powers, and an independent judiciary, a raucous press and civil society organizations that think nothing of taking the government to court in defence of minority and human rights.
Israel has a larger population than Denmark and New Zealand. In many ways, Israel has become an ordinary country with extraordinary success.
People work in Israel, raise families and complain about the economy and the government, as they do in France or Canada. But the majority of Israelis do this in Hebrew, the language of prayer that they reinvented as a language of everyday life.
Israelis also celebrate traditional Jewish holidays as national holidays, just as Arab countries celebrate Muslim holidays and Western countries celebrate Christian holidays, sometimes dressed up in secular garb.
Practically speaking the Jewish state translates into two elements that distinguish Israel from other countries:
·         It is the only country in the world with a majority Jewish culture, although here we have to say a Jewish culture Israeli-style, with lots of room for minority cultures;
·         It is the only country in the world with a majority Jewish electorate, who vote for politicians who have an interest in preserving and defending the Jewish state;
The only legal advantage that Israel gives to the Jewish people over other peoples in the world is the right to become citizens of Israel, in effect jumping the queue. Think of this as an affirmative action program to preserve and promote the Jewish state. Once they are citizens, however, Jews have the same rights as other citizens.
Why should the Palestinians accept a Jewish State?
Why should Palestinians accept a Jewish state? Why doesn’t Israel simply ask them (as they asked Egypt and Jordan before entering into peace treaties) to accept Israel’s “right to exist”, and then let Israel define itself any way it wants.
This argument would have merit if the Arab-Israeli conflict was a dispute over Israel’s right to exist. But it isn’t. Unlike Palestine, Israel already exists. Despite efforts to delegitimize it, Israel is accepted in international law. It doesn’t need Arab recognition to exist.
As strange as it may sound to Arab ears, what Israel needs is for its neighbours to accept Zionism. This refusal to accept the Jewish state in the Middle East lies at the very heart of the Arab Israeli conflict.
In order to end the conflict, or at least to create the conditions necessary to end the conflict, Arab states and Muslim majority countries have to stop trying directly and indirectly to destroy the State of Israel or turn it into an Arab or bi-national state. If the formula “two states for two peoples” is to mean anything it must include a Jewish state as well as an Arab state.
The public record shows that Arab-Israeli conflict started because the Arab leaders and people rejected Zionism. As soon as Arab leaders started recognizing that it was conceivable that Britain or the world could recognize a Jewish state they worked hard to ensure that would never happen.
When the writing was on the wall after the UN Partition vote, they threatened the Jewish leaders in Palestine that if they declared the Jewish state that was authorized by the UN, the Arab armies would attack and annihilate them.
While it is true that many Arabs in Palestine, not least the Mufti of Jerusalem, hated Jews, the Arab leaders did not attack Israel because they hated Jews. If they wanted to attack Jews, why wait until the Jewish state is declared? In fact why attack Israel at all? There were more Jews in Arab lands in 1948 than in Israel.
Arab leaders were prepared to allow Jews to continue to live as minorities in Arab states. They would have preferred to annex Palestine to Syria or Jordan. Or to have created one state in Palestine dominated by Arabs, not Jews. Anything but partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
When Ben Gurion declared the Jewish state of Israel, Arab leaders, in some cases reluctantly, set out to strangle Zionism in its cradle; although as they put it, they were more than willing to kill any Jews who insisted on defending the Jewish state.
Over the years the Arab and Muslim-majority countries have not hidden their hatred of Zionism. They convinced the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1975 to label Zionism as racist. And the UN General Assembly has been littered with resolutions singling out Israel for racist behaviour.
While it is true that Egypt and Jordan formally accepted Israel’s right to “exist” without having to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Egyptians and Jordanians would still prefer to see a one-state solution with Jews as a minority in Palestine. As a result Israelis treat peace treaties with surrounding countries like armistice agreements.
Israelis won’t rest easy until Arab leaders and now, more than ever, their people, accept a Jewish majority in Israel.
The truth is there never was a place for a Jewish state in the Arab narrative of national liberation, which was the most important movement in the Arab world at the time Israel was established. At the same time the Jewish people were returning to their national homeland, the Arab people were throwing off the yoke of colonialism, and they saw Israel as an outpost of the West.
In the first few decades of the conflict, in fact, Arab leaders called Israel “the Zionist entity” and labeled it “colonialist”, “imperialist” and worse. Arab leaders didn’t accept that the Jewish people had an historical claim to the land, let alone a modern claim. They saw the waves of Jewish immigrants from Europe as Europeans, not as an indigenous people returning to their land.
A casual observer, however, could be forgiven for thinking that the Arab-Israeli conflict is all about the “occupation” or “settlements”; and that all Israel would have to do for peace is abandon the land acquired in the Six Day War.
Why is the picture so cloudy?
After the war to destroy the Jewish state ended with an armistice in 1949, the landscape in the Middle East completely changed.
Arab leaders introduced discriminatory laws against Jews in Arab lands and eventually expelled or scared out hundreds of thousands of Jews whose families had lived in Arab or Muslim-majority countries for centuries. Ironically most of the refugees from these countries became citizens of Israel, strengthening the Jewish state and changing its complexion.
At the same time hundreds of thousand of Arabs found themselves outside the armistice lines, living mostly on the West Bank, which was occupied by Jordan after the war. It is well known that the Arab narrative has Israel forcibly expelling the Palestinian people from Israel in an ethnic cleansing carried out between 1947 and 1949.
The record shows, however, that Palestinians left what is now Israel for a number of reasons. In some cases they left out of fear of being caught in a war zone; in fact the Arab armies warned them to leave and then return after the massacre. In other cases Palestinians left because of fear of what the Jews might do to them. In rare cases they were forced by Israelis to leave an area.
An insight into what really happened can be seen after the war and the armistice in 1949. The Palestinians who stayed in Israel during the war became Israeli citizens, with full rights of citizenship. The Palestinians who left were not allowed to return. Israel based its decision not to let them back in on the fact that they were still at war with the Arab world.
This was complicated by the fact that Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza in the Six Day War in 1967, and became responsible for the Palestinians who continued to live in those areas.
In fact the reasons why the majority of Arabs oppose a Jewish state has metastasized, which has distorted the picture of how to resolve the conflict. Among the factors that arose after 1948:
1.     Since 1967, the Arabs have focused on “the occupation” and “settlements” and what they describe as Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinian people;
2.     Arab leaders have traditionally described Zionism in expansionist terms, suggesting that the Jews would not stop until they controlled their Arab neighbours;
3.     Autocratic Arab leaders have often used deligitimization of Israel to deflect attention from their own despotism and as a way to establish their bona fides with their own people;
4.     The creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the splintering of the anti Israel front into multiple political and militant factions, added a new focus to the conflict;
5.     The use of terror to achieve political aims, which led to Israel using aggressive offensive and defensive strategies to counter and confront terrorism aimed at Israelis;
6.     The European antisemitic tool kit has been imported into the Middle East, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the trope that Jews are out to control the world;
7.     The anti-Israel drumbeat has been picked up by non-Arab countries with majority Muslim populations, like Iran and Pakistan, who see this as a way to assert leadership in the Muslim world; and
8.     Islamists and salafists have said that Israel is on land given by God to the Muslims, an Islamic wuqf or patrimony.
A close look at these factors, however, reveals that the root cause of the conflict hasn’t changed – it is still the rejection of a Jewish state in the Middle East. The bill of indictment against Israel has simply grown to massive proportions. This is no longer an anti colonial campaign. The rejection of the Jewish state is now part of a massive, global campaign.
This has made it much more difficult to resolve the conflict today. There are more players, more strategies, more fronts in this war to end Zionism, and there is little trust between the parties. But in the end, the Israelis perceive the goal of this campaign to delegitimize Israel to be the same as it was in 1948, to end the Jewish state.
Of all the factors perhaps the two biggest obstacles to a settlement have been the rise of both radical Islam and antisemitism. Radical Islam’s hatred for Jews and zero-sum calculations leave little room for compromise. But it isn’t only the radicals that have become Jew haters. And once unleashed, antisemitism has shown itself to be an obsession that continues even when there are no Jews left to target.
If only the Arab peoples had seen Zionism in 1948 as a struggle for self determination, not unlike their own struggle, the Palestinian people would have been celebrating over 60 years of independence today and not the “Nakba” or catastrophe.
Israel hasn’t always helped itself along the way. Its strategy has been to defend itself aggressively, and to try to negotiate with their neighbours and the Palestinians when opportunities arose. While Israelis have been successful in defending themselves, the fact is they have not succeeded in negotiating an end to the conflict.
Perhaps Israel’s biggest error was to believe after the Six Day War that it could retain control of the West Bank or Gaza for other than security reasons. This was the rebirth of the dream of Greater Israel that the Jews had given up in 1948. The settlement project had some legitimacy, in both security and historical terms. But over time the Israeli government lost control of both the size and scope of the project.
It has also been hard to make big decisions with coalition governments over the years that included parties that ran from right to left and back again. Israel could be criticized for missteps in fighting its wars over the years, including asymmetrical warfare. Having said that, Israel is a free society and has adapted over the years, some years better than others, to the shifting sands in the Middle East.
Moreover, notwithstanding any missteps, Israel is still prepared, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his speech, to accept two states for two peoples as a solution to the conflict.
There was a time when Jews thought they would become a normal people, when they wouldn’t need to defend themselves or the idea behind their state. As recently as the 1990s, the big debate in Israel was whether Israel was ready to become “post Zionist”.
You don’t hear much talk of that today. Israeli Jews are not ready to let go of the Zionist dream as long as their enemies talk of making them a minority in Israel. The safer Israelis feel, the more they are prepared to take chances for peace.
So rather than continuing to delegitimize Israel, maybe it’s time for Palestinians and supporters of a Palestinian state to reconcile themselves to Jewish nationalism. Maybe it’s time for them to tell the world’s most insecure people there is room in the Middle East for a Jewish state.
Recognizing the Jewish State as the key to unlocking peace?
Based on the competing claims to the land, and leaving aside Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s dream of an apocalyptic end to the Jewish state, there are only two possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict:
1.     A one-state solution in which Israel ceases to exist as a Jewish state;
2.     A two-state solution in which Israel continues to exist as a Jewish state with a significant Arab minority living beside Palestine as a state controlled by the Palestinian people.
The one-state solution is national suicide for Israel. If it happened peacefully, Jews would eventually live as a minority in Palestine as they have for two millennia in countries controlled by other peoples. But it would be the end of the Zionist dream, and Israelis aren’t prepared to let go of the Jewish nation-state.
Israelis needs to know that the two-state solution is not a step toward a one-state solution. The only way to satisfy them is for the Palestinian people to give up on their dream of one day uniting Palestine under an Arab flag. It’s not too late to do so.
Israelis know this would be a bitter pill for the Palestinians to swallow since the goal of their movement has been one state, dominated by Arabs, with a “right of return” to what is now Israel. And who can blame them. Accepting a Jewish state will mean that Palestinian refugees and their descendants, would be settled in the new state of Palestine, and not in Israel. Are the Palestinian people ready to accept that?
Twice in the last seven decades Jews had to give up their dream of a Greater Israel that included all of Palestine, first in 1947 in New York, when they accepted partitioning Palestine into two states and then again in 1993 in Oslo, when they allowed the PLO to take control of the West Bank and Gaza. Are Palestinians ready to give on their dream of Greater Palestine?
The fact that Israelis aren’t hearing the words they long to hear confirms in their minds, rightly or wrongly, that the Palestinians have not given up on their dream. On this issue Israelis are skeptics and with good reason.
Israel may be a regional superpower butIsraeli Jews see themselves as a besieged minority in the Middle East. Israelis need reassurance that Palestinian statehood won’t threaten their existence as a homeland for the Jewish people.
How Would It Happen?
How would the Palestinians persuade Israel that it accepts a Jewish state if in fact they are inclined to do so. Would it be by way of a referendum? Would Hamas have to be part of the deal?
In other words, what would constitute in Netanyahu’s words “a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”?
This isn’t an easy question to answer.
Sequencing would be important. The Palestinians would only grant recognition as part of a final status deal, so any referendum would either take place after a deal is negotiated, and the negotiators are asking for approval. On the other hand, the negotiators could be given conditional authority ahead of time to grant recognition as part of a final status deal.
The referendum question would have to be along the lines of, do you authorize the leadership on behalf of the Palestinian people:
1.     To renounce, now and forever, any claim we might have to a right of return to what is now Israel;
2.     To accept that Palestinian refugees and their descendants will be given the right to become citizens in the new State of Palestine, which will be located in the West Bank and Gaza;
3.     To recognize and accept that Israel is the homeland and nation-state of the Jewish people, which is sometimes referred to as the Jewish state;
4.     To accept that Israel has the right to promote its culture, which includes a special obligation to preserve and promote the Jewish culture;
5.     To accept that Israel has the obligation to be a safe haven for Jews and to accept Jews from around the world as citizens, while guaranteeing equal rights to all its citizens; and
6.      Not to take any steps to try to undermine or change the first five points.
It has been proposed by some European leaders that the formulation be changed to have the Palestinians recognize that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people without specifically referring to “the Jewish state”. This is based on the fact that Arab and Palestinian leaders have said they will never accept Zionism. Israel’s position will likely be that the wording could be negotiated as long as Israel’s unique role as the Jewish nation-state is clearly accepted.
This recognition of course would be reciprocal, with Israel recognizing and accepting that Palestinians are a people deserving of a state of their own, with an obligation to preserve and promote the culture of the Palestinian people, while guaranteeing equal rights to all its citizens.
We also have to take into account there will always be “spoilers” to any settlement. The spoilers may come from within the Palestinian camp. Hamas comes to mind. Even with a referendum, which Hamas says they will accept, there will be splinter groups opposed to any compromise with Israel. We have to remember that after the IRA came “the Real IRA”.
Some of the surrounding Arab countries may give their blessing to a deal endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (the PLO, which excludes Hamas). But some will not. If Assad survives in Syria, the ruling Baath party might dissent unless there is also a deal on the Golan Heights.

Iran, as the leader of the rejectionists in the Middle East, will certainly oppose almost any deal that allows for the survival of the Jewish state, at least as long as the current regime is in power. Salafist groups like Al Qaeda will never accede to a Jewish state in what they consider “Dar al Islam” or the “House of Islam”.

There will still be some hard choices to make for both sides even if the Palestinians accept that their state will be in the West Bank and Gaza and not in Israel. But if Israelis believe the conflict is over, and they can get the security guarantees they need, peace will be a question of how far each side is prepared to compromise over borders, settlements, Jerusalem and all the other “final status” issues that undergird the principle of two states for two peoples.

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