Netanyahu’s Jewish-State Strategy

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In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14 last year, in which he broke with his own and his Likud Party’s ideological background by accepting the principle of a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, he laid down two conditions for that acceptance. One was that the Palestinian state be effectively demilitarized. The other was that “the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people.”

Netanyahu has reiterated the Jewish-state theme more than once this month, most notably in offering to extend the freeze on Jewish home-building in the West Bank in return for that same recognition that the Palestinians, of course, continue to refuse to grant. In other words, what Netanyahu was articulating back on June 14, 2009, was a strategy, one he keeps pursuing and will likely continue to pursue.

Palestinians have noted in reply that Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan without demanding that these countries formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians also say that they already “recognized Israel” at the start of the Oslo process in 1993—which means only that they recognized its existence as a fact, a “recognition” that is without normative content.

They also point out that Israel, off and on, has been negotiating with the Palestinians since 1993 without the Jewish-state recognition. But these Palestinian objections to Netanyahu’s demand can easily be turned around by asking why the recognition should be so hard to grant in the first place—especially when Netanyahu, the Likud leader, has explicitly accepted the Palestinian-state principle.

Is Netanyahu’s Jewish-state strategy working, then? Now that it has been in place for almost a year and a half, one can start to assess what it is trying to achieve and to what extent it is succeeding.

First, the strategy is clearly aimed at taking Israel off the defensive. Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech came in response to severe pressure from the Obama administration particularly on the settlement issue, expressed in harsh public statements that the settlements were allegedly “illegitimate.” Netanyahu and his close advisers appear to have assessed, for better or worse, that trying to defend the settlement policy pursued—to varying extents—by all Israeli governments since 1967 wouldn’t play. Instead they came up with a counter-demand on the Palestinians.

It is not too early to say that whoever came up with the idea can be credited with brilliance. Asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, after Netanyahu had done the equivalent for their prospective state, would appear to be the soul of fairness and reciprocity. In consistently, bluntly rejecting the request—Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, for instance, said just the other day that “We’ll never sign a deal demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state”—Palestinian leaders end up putting themselves in a light that seemingly, to any fair-minded spectator, is not favorable.

Is it having an effect? To some meaningful extent, yes. Just this month, pro-Israel observers like Douglas Feith, Frida Ghitis, and Jeff Jacoby have written columns explaining and endorsing the Jewish-state theme. Pro-Israel congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) was seeking to introduce a bipartisan resolution calling on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—an effort that appears to have slowed thanks to the upcoming elections. The Netanyahu government has succeeded in giving the Jewish-state principle currency and redirecting some of the heat directed at Israel.

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  • seadog1946

    Bibi is clever/Jewish… if one were to recognize Israel as the "Jewish State of Israel" then any criticism of Israel is criticism of Jews which is anti-semitism/hate-speech… which puts a check mark next your name in the US State Department's "The Office of the Special Envoy To Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (SEAS)".

  • waterwillows

    The world can look at Pakistan which was created as a country, at the same time Israel was and see the total difference.
    There is no shortage of muslims lands for this group to move to.

    • ajnn

      Around 100 million persons were displaced from their homes in 1945-1950. Including 800,000 Arabs Jews who were forced from their homes by the Arabs and came to Israel as legal Refugees.

      Of the 100,000,000 only the 400-600,000 Palestinian Arabs are still looking to return.

  • Henry

    the only answer to all problems is Matthew 22:37-40
    there is no other name in all heaven that gives salvation.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    The fact of the matter is there is no peace possible, and as soon as the Israeli Left comes to that conclusion the better off Israel will be. The jihad of conquest being waged against Israel is a lesser jihad of the greater global jihad, and like the greater global jihad at large, there is no peace possible as the main goal of Islam is to subjugate the world via the imposition of Sharia. Hence, there is no peace possible for Israel and also the non-Islamic world.

  • Shalom Freedman

    This piece is outstanding as it gives an understanding of the strategy of Prime Minister Netanyahu in insisting on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

  • Ron P.

    Netanyahu has expressed pure logic by all standards, even Islamic. The Palestinians are doing the opposite, as Hornik states: "Palestinians have noted in reply that Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan without demanding that these countries formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state."

    Why the opposite? Simply because there can be no such thing as a "peace treaty" without recognition – even if unstated. It's understood, and implied. A country like Egypt doesn't sign "peace treaties" and its Prime Minister, Anwar al-Sadat, doesn't get awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for signing treaties with phantoms. His traveling to Israel was also defacto recognition. Even the Pope's visit is defacto recognition of Israel, maybe even of an Israel that truly never left in spirit.

    It's also logical to realize that signing any kind of agreement with a Palestinian leader, controlling an undemocratic people by force and donations, has little real value in the future. The fact that Hamas exists and is growing in influence with outside help, makes any deal with Palestinians worthless even "before" it is signed. If the Palestinians will not acknowledge the existence of Israel as a national entity, they have a right to be bypassed.

  • Wesley69

    Netanyahu is the best man in place to stop an unfavorable settlement being forced upon Israel. His idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state in exchange for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish Israel was a wise move. Then again, whenever Israel has exchanged territory for peace with the Palestinians, it has failed.

    But this fact can not be ignored – ANY SETTLEMENT without Hamas will not work and is bound to fail. Netanyahu, I am sure, understands this. He also has little wiggle room with his own people with the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Arab refugees.

    Netanyahu is also waited for November 2nd. Major Republican Congressional victories will reduce Obama's pressure on Israel to achieve a comprehensive peace plan.

  • ajnn

    "Palestinianism" lacks the basic requirements of legitimate national identity: a separate, unique linguistic, cultural, ethnic, or religious basis."

    There is international law on this point.

    International Law requires that a group have some characteristics of a real country to be considered a 'nation'. A unique and unified culture, language, history, religion are ppart of this. But also is some geographic basis.

    The palestinian arabs have never been a country with their own borders. more importantly, over the last 50 years they have not 'controlled' or exercised 'jurisdiction' over any defined area. Jordan, today, does not count for the Ppalestinian Arabs. The arabs have not managed police, law courts, military control, economic control, etc over any defined area. They were given a chance under the Oslo Accords, but never set up the institutions of government.

    • ajnn

      The Palestinian Arabs also have problems with the other characteristics of a 'country'.

      Arabic is a common language, but it is also common for the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. it does not separate them from the other 300+ million arabs in the region.

      The same for religion (islam – the same as the other 300 million in the region),
      There is just not much to establish the Palestinian Arabs beyond the fact that 80% or more of them came from Syria as guest workers in the 1920's and 1930's.