Rami G. Khouri writes: In my discussions on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations with various informed audiences around the United States during the past month, the question that comes up most often is about how the Palestinians can, should or will respond to the Israeli government demand that they must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The prevalent Arab and Palestinian demand is to rule out any such recognition, on several valid grounds, such as: The Jewish state concept is not defined, it does not take account of the Palestinian Arab and other non-Jewish Israelis, it does not address the implications of such recognition for the U.N.-acknowledged rights of Palestinian refugees, and it does not have any basis in international law or diplomatic norms related to how states recognize each other.
These points do not seem to impress the Israelis, who have made this more central to their demands for any permanent peace agreement. Israel also seems to have convinced the United States to come down on its side, as the American president, secretary of state and other senior officials have routinely referred to Israel as “the Jewish state of Israel” or some other such formulation.
It is not clear if Palestinians will cave in and accept the Israeli-American demand as they usually do, for three main reasons. First, the demand comes in the context of final-status negotiations that aim to resolve all outstanding disputes, so there is likely to be some room for give-and-take in any final agreement. Second, the “Jewish state” concept remains undefined, and its clear definition, coupled with agreement on the rights of the Palestinians and non-Jewish Israelis, could pave the way for some mutual acknowledgments that satisfy both sides. Third, a central negotiating demand such as this that springs up suddenly after over six decades of warfare seems to be a proxy concept that reflects deeper issues that must be resolved. [Continue reading…]