x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Jewish recognition and apartheid

Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognise it as a Jewish state will make the Palestinian and Bedouin minorities into second class citizens.

Arab leaders were entirely justified in their unanimous decision this week to reject Israel’s demand for the Palestinians recognise it as a Jewish state. As The National reported yesterday, the Arab League’s statement after its two-day summit in Kuwait also made it clear it supports Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s lack of enthusiasm for pro­longing peace talks, blaming Israel for the lack of progress.

Israel and its supporters will inevitably seek to portray the decision about Israel being a Jewish state as anti-Semitic. Leaving aside the point that almost all the groups found in Arabia are Semites (defined not by religious affiliation but by speaking one of the Semitic languages, including both Hebrew and Arabic), this assertion is simply wrong.

If any other country was to define itself solely by ethnicity, condemning its minority groups to the status of second-class citizens, the comparison would be made – justifiably – to Apartheid-era South Africa, where white South Africans enjoyed freedoms denied their fellow citizens. This is what recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would do to the country’s Palestinian and Bedouin minorities, as well as non-Jewish immigrants.

The position is even worse if the remaining faint hopes of achieving a fair two-state solution eventually succumb to Mr Netanyahu’s apparent pursuit of a single state. If Israel is declared to be a Jewish state, the large population of Palestinians currently in the West Bank and Gaza would be excluded from the full rights and privileges enjoyed by Jewish citizens. With the demographic prediction that in the one-state scenario, Palestinians and Bedouin will eventually outnumber Jewish citizens, the South African analogy becomes even more pronounced.

Among the implications of accepting Israel as a Jewish state are restrictions of possible return options for Palestinian refugees to their homes, border security and the status of Jerusalem.

As Mr Abbas said, the Palestinians recognised Israel as a state in the Oslo agreements more than 20 years ago. “Why do they now ask us to recognise the Jewishness of the state?” he asked.

One interpretation is that Israel added the recognition demand knowing full well the Palestinians could not accept it, thus prolonging the long stalemate in which Israel’s position has been growing stronger. But by making a one-state solution a fait accompli, Israel will find itself facing a choice between being Jewish and being democratic, and that is when the Apartheid analogy will be answered definitively.