On the Israeli Demand for Recognition of a ‘Jewish State’

by Sari Nusseibeh
The Israeli government’s current mantra is that
the Palestinians must recognize a ‘Jewish State’. Of
course, the Palestinians have clearly and repeatedly
recognized the State of Israel as such in the 1993 Oslo Accords
(which were based on an Israeli promise to establish a
Palestinian state within five years—a promise shattered now
for fourteen years) and many times since. Recently, however,
Israeli leaders have dramatically and unilaterally moved the
goal-posts and are now clamouring that Palestinians must
recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish State’
In 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry
concluded that the demand for a ‘Jewish State’ was not part
of the obligations of the Balfour Declaration or the British
Mandate. Even in the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897,
when Zionists sought to ‘establish a home for the Jewish
people’, there was no emphasis on a ‘Jewish State’. The Zion
ist Organization preferred at first to use the description ‘Jewish
homeland’ or ‘Jewish Commonwealth’. Many pioneering
Zionist leaders, such as Judah Magnes and Martin Buber
also avoided the clear and explicit term ‘Jewish State’ for
their project of a homeland for Jews, and preferred instead
the concept of a democratic state of Israel for all its citizens
or a bi-national state.
Today, however, demands for a ‘Jewish State’ from Israeli
politicians are growing without giving thought to what this
might mean, and its supporters claim that it would be as
natural as calling France a French State. However, if we consider
the subject dispassionately, the idea of a ‘Jewish State’
is logically and morally problematic because of its legal, religious,
historical and social implications. The implications of
this term therefore need to be spelled out, and we are sure
that once they are, most people—and most Israeli citizens,
we trust—will not accept these implications.
First, let us say that confusion immediately arises here
because the term ‘Jewish’ can be applied both to the ancient
race of Israelites and their descendants, as well as to those
who believe in and practice the religion of Judaism. These
generally overlap, but not always. For example, some ethnic
Jews are atheists and there are converts to Judaism (leaving
aside the question of whether these are accepted as such by
Ultra-Orthodox Jews) who are not ethnic Jews.
Second, let us suggest also that having a modern nationstate
being defined by one ethnicity or one religion is prob7
lematic in itself—if not inherently self-contradictory—because
the modern nation-state as such is a temporal and civic
institution, and because no state in the world is, or can be in
practice, ethnically or religiously homogenous.
Third, recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ implies that
Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy (if we take the word
‘Jewish’ to apply to the religion of Judaism) or an apartheid
state (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ to apply to the ethnicity
of Jews), or both, and in all of these cases Israel is then no
longer a democracy—something which has rightly been the
pride of most Israelis since the founding of Israel in 1948.
Fourth, at least one in five Israelis—20% of the population,
according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics—
today is ethnically Arab i.e. 20% of the population (and
are mostly either Muslim, Christian, Druze or Bahai), and
recognising Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ as such makes one-fifth
of the population of Israel automatically strangers in their
own native land and opens the door to legally reducing
them, most undemocratically, to second-class citizens (or
perhaps even stripping them of their citizenship and other
rights)—something that no one, much less a Palestinian
leader, has a right to do.
Fifth, recognising a ‘Jewish State’ as such in Israel would
mean legally that whilst Palestinians no longer have citizens’
rights there, any member of the world Jewry outside of Israel
(up to 10 million people perhaps), should be entitled
to full citizens’ rights there, no matter where they may be in
the world today and regardless of their current nationality.
Indeed, Israel publicly admits that it does not hold the land
for the benefit of its citizens but holds it, in trust, on behalf
of the Jews of the world for all time. This is something that
happens in practice, but that obviously Palestinians in the
Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem, do not see as fair;
especially because they are constantly forcibly evicted off
their ancestral homeland by Israel to make way for foreign
Jewish settlers, and because Palestinians in their Diaspora
are denied the same right.
Sixth, it means, before Final Status peace negotiations
have even started, that Palestinians would have then given
up the rights of about 7 million Palestinians in Diaspora to
repatriation or compensation; 7 million Palestinians descended
from the Palestinians who in 1900 lived in historical
Palestine (i.e. what is now Israel, the West Bank including
Jerusalem, and Gaza) and at that time made up 800,000 of
its 840,000 inhabitants; and who were driven off their land
through war, violent eviction or fear.
Seventh, recognising a ‘Jewish state’ in Israel—a state
which purports to annex the whole of Jerusalem, East and
West, and calls Jerusalem its ‘eternal, undivided capital’ (as
if the city, or even the world itself, were eternal; as if it were
really undivided, and as if it actually were legally recognized
by the international community as Israel’s capital)—means
completely ignoring the fact that Jerusalem is as holy to 2.2
billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims, as it is to 15-20
million Jews worldwide. In other words, this would be to
privilege Judaism above the religions of Christianity and
Islam, whose adherents together comprise 55% of the world’s
population. Regrettably this is a narrative propagated even
by renowned Jewish author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel,
who, on April 15, 2010, took out full page ads in The New York
Times and The Washington Post and claimed that Jerusalem
‘is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture—and
not a single time in the Qur’an’. Now we do not propose to
speak for native Palestinian Arab Christians—except to say
that Jerusalem is quite obviously the city of Jesus Christ the
Messiah—but as Muslims, we believe that Jerusalem is not
the ‘third holiest city of Islam’ as is sometimes claimed, but
simply one of Islam’s three holy cities. And of course, despite
what Mr. Wiesel seems to believe, Jerusalem is indeed clearly
referred to in the Holy Qur’an in Surat al-Isra’ (17:1):
Glorified be He Who transported His servant by night
from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Aqsa
Place of Worship whose precincts We have blessed, that
We might show him of Our tokens! Lo! He, only He, is the
Hearer, the Seer’ {1}

READ MORE HERE:    http://www.rissc.jo/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=220:on-the-israeli-demand-for-recognition-of-a-jewish-state&catid=52:jerusalem-series&Itemid=71


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