On the Recognition of the “Jewish State”

Special report by MADAR — The Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies
(An independent research centre specialising in Israeli affairs, based in Ramallah, Palestine)

Edited by: Honaida Ghanim
Contributors: Ahmad S. Khalidi, Antwan Shulhut, Hassan Jabareen, Honaida Ghanim, Nimer Sultany, Raef Zreik, and Yousef Taiseer Jabareen.

February 2014

By Honaida Ghanim, (General Director of the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies, MADAR. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Anthropology from the Hebrew University)

Israel, upon signing peace agreements with Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt, did not make peace conditional upon recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Therefore, it is reasonable to wonder why Israel has made this such a central element of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Is it not su cient to recognise Israel’s right to exist? Why are Palestinians expected to go the extra step, beyond what was required of others, and to recognise and endorse Israel’s character as a Jewish State? Moreover, what does this condition entail? And how is it perceived and understood by Palestinians?

In the cases of Egypt or Jordan, the absence of such a condition or need is not surprising as Israel’s central con ict is with the Palestinians, over the same land!

From the very beginning, land has constituted the core of the con ict in Palestine and its conquest was an essential condition for the realisation of the colonial-settler Zionist enterprise. Any and all Palestinians located within this territory were considered to be an obstacle to the achievement of central goal of Zionism — the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Consistent with this point of view, Palestinians are considered to be an obstacle by virtue of their mere presence in their homeland. As Deborah Bird Rose1 writes: “To get in the way of settler colonization, all the native has to do is stay at home”.

Accordingly, the indigenous Palestinian population of the country has paid a huge price. Already during the British mandate, the process of being driven out of their homeland had begun. Their dispossession peaked in 1948 when the Jewish state was declared on more than two-thirds of the territory of historic Palestine. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were completely obliterated, their inhabitants expelled and signs of their presence erased. Five cities were completely emptied of their Arab population (Safad, Bisan, Tabariya, Beer Sabea› and Majdal) while the vast majority of Palestinians in ve other cities (Ya a, Haifa, Akka, Lidd and Ramleh) were forced out. Residents of wealthy neighborhoods in Jerusalem such as Qatamon, Talbiya and Al-Baqa’a were displaced and replaced by Jewish immigrants. In 1948, in the territory of the entirety of historic Palestine, over half of the Palestinian native population were expelled by Zionist forces while in the territory that, in 1948, constituted the state of Israel, some 85% of the Palestinian population found themselves displaced from their homes. Palestinian refugees were forced into neighboring territories including neighboring Arab countries and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In examining this issue, a distinction should be made between de jure and de facto recognition. In order to facilitate peace and promote the establishment of their own state, the Palestinians have accepted de facto recognition of the existence of the State of Israel — despite ethnic cleansing committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. However, this is not su cient for the government of Israel, which demands recognition, de jure, of Israel’s historic-national right in Palestine as was o cially dedicated in the declaration of independence, which stated that:

ERETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) — the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they rst attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal signi cance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu, in his rst famous Bar Ilan speech in 2009, clearly elaborates what he means by Jewish rights, linking them to the Zionist narrative by saying5:

The connection of the Jewish People to the Land has been in existence for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked, our forefathers David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah — this is not a foreign land, this is the Land of our Forefathers.

Implicit in this demand is Palestinian acceptance of the Zionist ideology of ‘returning to the Jewish homeland’ and its attendant implications including the idea that Palestinians are interlopers who had to be driven out. Endorsement of such a viewpoint — and the demand that this take place — is profoundly unethical as it legitimizes crimes of ethnic cleansing and by de nition deny the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland.

The current book addresses the ethical, national, political and practical implications of the Israeli demand to be recognised as the nation state of the Jewish people. Starting with a historical overview of the internal tensed debate of who is a Jew, Honaida Ghanim outlines the transformation of the debate from internal level to external national one, in her conclusion Ghanim presents the structural problems in the “Jewish and Democratic” paradigm and the impact of recognising Israel as a Jewish state on the Palestinian national narrative.

In his article “Not Just a Matter of Self-Determination” Raef Zreik discusses Israel’s insistence on receiving not only recognition of its existence but of its identity as a Jewish state and the seeming need to emphasize the Jewish people right to self- determination. He believes this represents a manipulative attempt to harness concepts such as justice, redress and self-determination for causes, which are not contextually accurate; the goal is to empty negotiations of all content, instead of seeking to achieve a just and fair settlement. As such, such a strategy re ects exclusively Jewish as opposed to Palestinians’ needs and interests. While Zreik’s article emphasizes the multi layered dimension of the Israeli demand, Hassan Jabareen’s article “The Legal Meaning of the Jewish State and the Nakba” emphasises the practical meaning of “Jewish state” term the way it’s applied and functions in law, including in Israeli Supreme Court decisions. Speci cally, Jabareen examines the legal implications of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and its connection with the Nakba consequences. In other words, Jabareen argues that the legal doctrine of Jewish and democratic is the negation of the Nakba.

Although the Israeli legal regime continues to be replete with laws which discriminate against Arab citizens, the ascension of the Israeli demand is accompanied by intensive e orts to determine the internal nature of the state as the nation state of the Jewish people.

The current Netanyahu government is working on the legal plan to more deeply entrench the ‘Jewish’ element into the character and structure of the state. To this end, a number of major attempts have been made; in particular, a proposed basic law (with constitutional status) that would de ne Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. In order to advance this initiative, Israeli Minister of Justice, Tzipi Livni appointed Ruth Gavison, a professor of law, to further formulate relevant legislation. This e ort was triggered by a proposed law submitted by Knesset members Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home). Their proposal was subsequently suspended by Livni, pending the outcome of Gavison’s bill. An article by Yousef Jabareen analyses the Levin-Shaked bill; it presents an overview of its content and its discriminatory elements and analyses some of the implications passage of this bill may have on the Arab Palestinian minority — nearly 20% of Israel’s citizens.

Ahmad Khalidi discusses and analyses the reasons why Palestinians are unable to recognise Israel as a Jewish State. In line with Honaida Ghanim’s analysis, Khalidi notes that one such problem with recognition is that it will imply a negation of the Palestinian historical narrative.

Additionally, the current volume contains an overview of the recognition demand, and its presence in the internal Israeli scene. Through an extensive review of various published resources, Antwan Shulhut outlines the evolution of this demand and its formation inside the Israeli political and public.

Nimer Sultany’s article analyses the work of two of Israel’s pre-eminent theorists on Israel as a Jewish and democratic state: Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein. He explicates and exposes various epistemological contradictions underlying their arguments; in particular, he focuses on their attempts to conceptualise Israel’s right to de ne itself as a Jewish state on par with other western countries in ways, which do not properly take into account Israel’s colonial history and present social structure.

Indeed, the articles argue that the current need for recognition as a Jewish state is integrally connected to internal con icts and identity crises within the Jewish population itself. The national and historical genesis of this discourse is reviewed from two contrasting perspectives; from the perspective of Israel and the Zionist movement on one hand and from the Palestinian perspective on the other. Thus, the volume sheds light on the signi cance of the ‘Jewish-democratic’ formulation for the Jewish people; the reasons underlying its emergence in peace negotiations and how Palestinian acquiescence to this condition would be injurious to Palestinian rights.

We hope and believe that this volume represents a unique contribution to literature. It explicates one of the central issues facing negotiators today — Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, from a wide variety of viewpoints. While this is not the first volume to discuss the topic of Israel as a Jewish state, to the best of our knowledge, it is the first which approaches it from the perspective of Palestinian academics and which includes analysis on why the issue is of importance to Israelis and so problematic for Palestinians. The volume is timely given the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over nal status issues including this one. Indeed, the book comes at a pivotal moment where the issue of a ‘Jewish state’ is being transformed from an internal Israeli issue into one that preoccupies Palestinians, politicians and scholars. We hope that this book will lay the basis for a fruitful discussion on an issue of such crucial importance to both sides of the con ict in Palestine/Israel.

MADAR is so thankful to the contributors to this volume, for their great collaborative spirits and profound inquiring minds. Special thanks to Bashir Bashir and Azar Dakwar for their notes. We also appreciate the e orts of Yara Odah, Lina Khalifeh, and Akram Musalam from MADAR, and of Yaseen Al-Sayed, Tala Abu Rahma, Riyam Kafri, Rajaa Zoabi-Omari, Marwa Shihab, and Lisa Richlen for the translation and proofreading.

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