Israelis slam Kerry over “Jewish State” Remarks as Abbas Rejects Demand

(By Juan Cole)

Right wing Israeli officials over the weekend expressed rage at US Secretary of State John Kerry for saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should “drop” his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel Ha-Yom reported, ‘Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman (Habayit Hayehudi) said: “At a time when the citizens of the State of Israel are being attacked by rockets, I would expect Kerry to be making clear statements against terror organizations instead of disputing the basic rights of the Jewish nation to its land.” ‘

As an outsider, that just sounds like a series of non sequiturs to me. What have the security problems Israel has with Gaza got to do with recognizing Israel as a “Jewish” state? How would those security problems be different if Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine who however has no authority over Gaza, said the magic words? (Abbas condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel, by the way). How do citizens of Israel have more or less rights to the land they live on if outsiders are made to characterize Israel as a “Jewish state”?

Actually, it isn’t clear what exactly Netanyahu’s demand entails or why he is making it. As I have pointed out, it is either like the US demanding to be recognized as a “white” state, or it is like the US demanding to be recognized as a “Christian” state. If it is the former, it is shameful and should be rejected. If it is the latter, it raises questions about the civil rights of non-believers (atheists and agnostics), which include at least 32% of Jews in Israel along with the 20% of the population that is Christian or Muslim. That is, the demand that Israel be recognized as a “Judaic” state would disenfranchise over half the population.

I know that the late Ariel Sharon used to complain, in biblical language, that the “Arabs” did not recognize the “Jewish birthright” to the land of Israel. I wonder if that is what Netanyahu is talking about with his formulation. If it is theological, it is certainly unreasonable to demand that outsiders assent to the formula.

As I have said before, I have a dark suspicion that the demand for recognition of the Jewishness of Israel is a prelude to Avigdor Lieberman’s plan of making the 1.7 million Palestinian-Israelis stateless. If so, that is a crime and no one should assent to it.

In any case, last week, both the Arab League and Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Netanyahu’s diction. It is a red line for them. Insisting on it will mean no agreement. If Netanyahu is insisting on it to forestall an agreement, he will succeed; but that will be a major failure.

In an important speech carried in Arabic by WAFA on March 12, Mahmoud Abbas explained that his commitment to the negotiations was time-bound, for a nine-month period, while Kerry tried to hammer out an agreement, especially on security and borders. Quotes below are from a USG translation carried by BBC Monitoring.

Abbas said that there was another negotiating track, completely distinct from the first, having to do with the Palestinian request that Israel release 104 prisoners in 4 groups. These prisoners had been arrested before 1993, i.e. before the Oslo Peace Accord. Basically he was pledging, he said, to forgo any resort to the International Criminal Court as a newly minted non-member observer state at the United Nations, for nine months if Israel would release these prisoners. This second track had, he said, nothing whatsoever to do with the first. That is, Israel was just buying time for its illegal settlement of Occupied Palestinian land by releasing the prisoners.

[Juan says: This element of the Palestinian strategy seems to me bizarre. Why give up everything gained at the UN for the sake of a small prisoner release program (Israel has thousands of Palestinians locked up and even arrests a lot of children)? In any case, that grace period of 9 months expires with the release of the last group of 25 or so prisoners in late March.]

Abbas laid out the Palestinian position on the first track, the borders and security negotiations:

1. East Jerusalem must be the capital of Palestine

2. Israelis must completely withdraw from the West Bank or from territories equivalent to the extent of the West Bank as it existed in 1967 (that is, the huge Israeli squatter settlement of Ariel can remain where it is, but Israel would have to relinquish some Israeli territory to make up for it). The agreement would specify the timeline for complete Israeli withdrawal from the territory allotted to Palestine.

3. Point 3 has several sub-points:

a. Israel will have to compensate Palestinian refugees who remain in their place of exile for property usurped from them in 1948 or 1967.

b. Palestinians who want to move from where they are now (say Lebanon) to a third country (say Jordan) with the agreement of the two countries should have the right to do so, and will still be paid compensation by Israel. (That is, Israel could not use the emigration of a 1948 refugee family from their original site of exile to another place to deny them compensation).

c. Palestinian refugees in places like Lebanon or Egypt who want to return to the State of Palestine (i.e. the West Bank and Gaza) will be allowed to do so.

d. Palestinians expelled in 1948 from Israel should have the right of return to Israel. These too must be given compensation for their losses of property.

Moreover, the countries that hosted the Palestinian refugees after 1948 must be given compensation by Israel.

4. Abbas notes that during the past 3 years or so, the Israelis have begun demanding that the State of Palestine recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state.” He wonders why he’s the only one of whom this demand is made. He said in the speech, “We said the following: We recognized the State of Israel in 1993 in the mutual recognition between President Arafat and the Israeli prime minister and no one asked us for anything else after that. Also, there were peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and neither country was asked to give such recognition, so why do you ask us for this?”

He added,

“Yesterday [Mar. 11], the Arab League issued a series of decisions, the most important of which expressed its rejection of the Jewish state and said that East Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine. In other words, the Arab League adopted our position. The Arab cover is very important to us. Without the Arab cover, we will be standing alone, but even if we were standing alone, we will not surrender.”

Mahmoud Abbas hints that the 9-month period of negotiations to which he committed is coming to a close. After that, he said, further decisions will have to be made in light of what has or hasn’t been achieved.

This speech may help explain why President Obama told PM Netanyahu that the US can’t protect Israel if there is no agreement. Mahmoud Abbas has not put going to the International Criminal Court off the agenda, he just postponed it for nine months. The nine months is expiring. If the Kerry negotiations crash and burn, pressure will build on Abbas and other Palestine officials to go to the ICC.

Israel’s flooding of its own population into occupied Palestinian territory is certainly illegal, by the Hague Convention of 1907 and by the Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations of 1949. If the Palestinian case goes to the ICC, Israel will certainly lose. The US can’t veto an ICC decision. And an ICC verdict against Tel Aviv would certainly accelerate the demand for international economic sanctions on Israel.

I don’t expect the Likud government to sign an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas of the sort he envisions. Netanyahu might be willing to do a deal, but he is unlikely to be able to bring his coalition partners along with him.

Therefore, I expect pressure to build over the next couple of years for Abbas to go to the International Criminal Court over Israel’s accelerating program of squatting on Palestinian territory. And I expect Israel to lose at the ICC. Those who fear Israel is becoming a pariah state should pressure Netanyahu’s government to make an agreement. This time, a propaganda campaign is not going to sweep the dirt under the rug.


Related video:

VOA: “Palestinian Leader Visits White House”

33 Responses

  1. Excellent article. Yes, why indeed does Netanyahu keep insisting the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”?
    What does being recognized as a Jewish state got to do with the security of Israel? Chances of the Palestinians thinking it is a Islamic state is slim to none, and the entire world hears ad nauseam, that it is a Jewish state, as Netanyahu keeps making sure he must mentions this status, in every speech and interview.
    It must take some chutzpah for an occupier, who has not still recognized the rights of the occupied, nor agreed to their freedom, and who has violated many international laws including illegal settlements in disputed territories, control of Palestinian water, destruction of their olive trees, demolition of their homes,
    the endless killings of unarmed civilians by their fences, the decades of blockades and deprivation of basic rights, to keep insisting that the occupied “recognize” them in any way.
    Would Bibi Netanyahu then “recognize” the State of Palestine, as an Islamic or Arab state in return?
    This is simply yet another attempt by Netanyahu and Israel, to find an excuse to keep the status quo going. Perhaps the occupier prefers to keep wielding power over these long suffering people.

  2. Dear Professor Cole.

    sadly the British prime Minister’s fawning speech to knesset gave away all of Netanyahu’s points and undermined Kerry. I almost threw up as I read it.
    link to

    “And to those who do not share my ambition, who want to boycott Israel, I have a clear message – Britain opposes boycotts; whether it is trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange, Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians. It is founded in the spirit and strength of your people, it is founded in international law, it is founded in the resolve of all your allies to protect an international system that was forged in our darkest days to put right historic wrongs. And it is founded in the achievement of your economy and your democracy, a country pledged to be fair and equal to all its citizens, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Arab or Druze, it is your destiny. De legitimising the State of Israel is wrong, it is abhorrent and together we will defeat it.”

    Can criminalising BDS be far off?

    • “the British prime Minister’s fawning speech to knesset”

      No surprise there. Cameron and the cabal of which he is a part are following in Thatcher’s despicable wake leading the United Kingdom step by step towards a fascist state.

      “Britain is treating journalists as terrorists – believe me, I know: My links to WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden mean I am treated as a threat and can’t return to the UK. We need a free speech roadmap” by Sarah Harrison – link to

      • But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more:

        “Metropolitan police strip searched more than 4,500 children in five years: Data obtained under freedom of information reveals thousands of 10 – 16-year-olds faced procedure from April 2008” by Joe Sandler Clarke – link to

    • Here is a chilling article about Zionist in this country insisting that anyone who protest Israeli policies or speakers be put through a indoctrination program designed by a Israeli support group. Students are threatened with expulsion and pro Palestinian groups are ordered to disband. This is a serious challenge to freedom of speech as we know it.

      link to

  3. WRT the Palestinian prisoner release issue, Israel also rearrests the released prisoners at will. So it would really be poor judgment to give up any substantial concession just in return for a temporary release.

  4. It seems clear that Netanyahu created the new demand for Palestine to recognize Israel as the “Jewish State” as a poison pill to kill any chance at a Palestinian State and try to shift the blame for that failure to the Palestinians. He was deathly afraid that a combination of US pressure and unbelievable “moderation” on the part of Abbas would leave him in the position of clearly being the rejectionist. The new demand was brilliant in a way since it looks so innocuous on its face, and many lazy people will not be able to understand why it is inherently impossible.

  5. Nr Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, meaning a state for the world’s Jews, is equivalent to Palestinian endorsement of the Zionist project initiated by Theodore Herzl at the end of the 19th century and consist of:
    1) That every Jew in the world is a citizen of the Jewish state and is free to live in Israel if he so choses.
    2) Jews, because of historical reason, involving that Jews lived in the land of Palestine 2000 years ago, have a natural right to repopulate Palestine.
    3) The internal structure and laws of the Jewish state is designed uniquely for Jews.
    4) That, for historical and biblical reasons, Jerusalem must be the undivided capital of the Jewish state
    Unfortunately, Obama, through inadvertence and general ignorance has already endorsed these principles. When speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resolution, he has always spoken of its goal as a ‘state for Jews’ and a ‘state for Palestinians’ living side by side, as if these had mirror image meanings.

    • When Israel declared its independence in 1948, there were voices among those religious Jews who wanted to make it a theocracy with a firm commitment to Judaism however the key founders insisted that it would be secular in nature.

      Israel’s War of Independence was fought alongside Arab Druze residents who had been allied with the Jewish Underground against the British Mandate going back to the 1930s. Druzes continue to serve in the Knesset and the IDF.

      Israel has had no constitution at any time in its history and its legal basis is derived from the Basic Law initially passed by the Knesset. The existence and scope of jurisdiction of its Supreme Court is at the pleasure of the Knesset.

      Israel’s First Knesset seated in 1949 had several Arabs in its group – the Christian Arab from Haifa, Toufik Toubi, just died a few years ago as the last surviving member of that First Knesset.

      There is simply no sociological nor historical justification for making Israel a “Jewish state”.

      • You misunderstand, Mark. Netanyahu’s claim has little or nothing to do with religion. See my comment above, beginning with, “Nr Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition …”, which you evidently did not read.

  6. Abbas is negotiating as if the Palestinians are in a position of strength, as if they have great leverage. But the Palestians have not prevented any of the land theft that has taken place in the past 20 years. Negotiations are about making concessions in order to get something. The main thing Palestinians should want is an end to the taking of their land. it might be a good idea to give up the right of return in exchange for an end to land theft.

    • “… it might be a good idea to give up the right of return in exchange for an end to land theft.”

      Not a chance when the goal of Israel’s right wing continues to be the complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestine Territories.

  7. I do believe that there can never be peace between the Arabs and Israel…the real reason is that Israel can not trust the Arabs…nor can the vastly superior in population Arabs bring themselves to believe that a day will come when they can win that one war….

    • The problem is not that at all Peter Green. The problem is that Israel is determined to take over all of Palestine and to destroy the Palestinian people, as a people, as it has been programed to do since the invention of Zionism, mostly by Herzl, at the turn of the 20th century.

      • Interestingly, Theodor Herzl was an atheist and a large percentage of Israeli Jews today are nonobservant Jews or atheists.

        • The demographics in Israel are rapidly changing, as the religiious and observant have large families, so it is unclear how “large” the percentage of nonobservant and atheists is. And what WILL happen when the majority are religious, the very same people, who do not wish to be conscripted into the military. May be it will be an improvement?

      • I agree, it seems much as they deny saying it, they do want to “rid the Galilee of the Arabs”, by terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of social services”, and every mentioned action has been carried through by a ruthless military occupation.
        I hope the Palestinians will do the next best thing and go to the ICC, with proof of the endless violations of international laws, committed by the occupier. The sooner Israel realizes the world (minus the US) is serious about boycotting and sanctions the better. Israel operates with the notion that the world is completely blind to it’s transgressions, crimes, and master plan.

    • Lack of trust is not a valid excuse for lack of peace. It is not wise to trust in anyone–other than God for some. Trust is not the day-to-day reality. If we had trust, we would not need written contracts and law, courts, and judges to adjudicate differences of opinion over the terms or failures to abide.

  8. Israel has been very smart in its 60 some years history to create new problems and issues to cover up the essential ones. In this regard, the main issue has always been return of refugees. Since 1948, every year UN has asked Israel to allow return of the refugees. Israel has always refused thinking rightly that after many years it will be a non problem. The task, and I may say the smart move, on the part of the progressive is to keep the problem alive. They should find practical ways in which refugees can be absorbed into Israel. More apratment buildings can be built, jobs for newly arrived creaed and immigration into countries such as USA should be made possible not only for Palestinians but also many jews who want to immigrate out of Israel are examples of practical steps that can be taken As progressives, we should not buy into concept of jewish majority state on the basis of our principles.
    Asking for a two-state solution was a retreat by PLO; their original idea of one state for jews and arabs was the right one. That is one reason the fuzzy concept of a nation state for Palestinians was accepted by smart Israelis in Oslo. It could buy them more time. They have not only taken the US admisinttrations for a ride but deceived all of the left in the West too, unfortunately!

  9. Yiddish is a wonderful language for insult and sneer and humor. Illustrative, too, when applied to the players in this little idiocy. The likudniks (“Consolidationists,” I take it, from their history) are playing the rest of us for “freiers,” that dense, rich put-down that very roughly means “suckers.” link to

    And I guess that would put the Palestinians in the category of
    “shlub.” link to

  10. Not bad McPhee….abetter term for the Palestinians might be..shlamazel…or maybe unclick…meaning..never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity…or just plain always doing something that works out wrong…or just plain luckless..or unfortunate …

  11. Wow! That point 3 is really gonna cost us – by which I mean, “the United States.” I can’t imagine Netanyahu agreeing to pay a single mite (much less a shekel); not only will the US have to provide all monetary compensation to the displaced Palestinians, we’ll also need to foot the bill for relocating the displaced Zionist squatters and compensating THEM. Plus, some military sweeteners.

    However, I assume that Secretary Kerry and President Obama are well aware of this. If done right, the Israel Buy-off might even come to less than the cost of supporting the American military needed to keep order in the middle east as a result of unending Israeli bellicosity.

  12. Juan, you state: “Actually, it isn’t clear what exactly Netanyahu’s demand entails or why he is making it. As I have pointed out, it is either like the US demanding to be recognized as a “white” state, or it is like the US demanding to be recognized as a “Christian” state. If it is the former, it is shameful and should be rejected. If it is the latter, it raises questions about the civil rights of non-believers (atheists and agnostics), which include at least 32% of Jews in Israel along with the 20% of the population that is Christian or Muslim. That is, the demand that Israel be recognized as a “Judaic” state would disenfranchise over half the population.”

    It is my opinion you are flat out wrong. It is not like the “US demanding to be recognized as a “white” state, or it is like the US demanding to be recognized as a “Christian” state.” For example, families and people who have lived in Sweden for centuries’ are Swedish and Sweden is not a religion. There are all kinds of people who live there with different theological views and they are still Swedish. I believe this is true in just about every country in the world. There is the name of the country and then people within that country who choose whatever religion or non-religion they prefer.

    However, there seems to be one country which contains both a heritage (Swedish, American, etc.) which combines its heritage and a religious component. That would be the Jewish people. Your born Jewish (like I’m born American) and there also appears to be a religious component. One can be born Jewish and I suppose not practice Judaism as a religion but they are still Jewish.

    I find it interesting that a Jewish person born in America is an American but is still Jewish. Why is that? Whereas my wife’s parents came from Sweden (they trace their heritage back many generations) in the 30’s, my wife was born here but she does not consider herself Swedish.

    From my understanding Israel has no state religion, and all religions enjoy freedom of worship, yet it is attacked for its Jewish character, whereas the Arab states that all have Islam as their official religion are regarded as legitimate.

    The Jewish people are a nation with a shared origin, religion, culture, language, and history. And why shouldn’t the Jewish people have a state? No one suggests that Arabs are not entitled to a nation (and they have not one, but twenty-one) of their own or Mexicans or Swedes or Germans. To suggest that Zionism, the nationalist movement of the Jewish people, is the only form of nationalism that is illegitimate is pure bigotry

    • “And why shouldn’t the Jewish people have a state? ”

      The problem is not that the Jews who form Israel’s right wing want a state. The problem is the way the Zionists before them went about creating the state of Israel and how the Likudniks and their allies are continuing the process of ethnic cleansing.

    • The Palestinians already recognised the right of Israel to exist. That secures the rights of the Jews who live in Israel. But recognising Israel as a Jewish State goes a long way past what is necessary for Jewish security. It implies an exclusive, expulsionist, openly chauvinist agenda – especially in the context of Israeli politicians like Lieberman openly calling for the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Arabs from Palestine.

      It is true that other states impose their own discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds… but those policies aren’t being publicly championed by a large cohort of Western politicians. That puts them in a different class of state-sanctioned misery, I think.

  13. Recognition of the Jewish state is actually very important. If the Palestinians really wanted only to be rid of Israel’s rule and establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, if they were yearning for their own state, they would gladly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, to get rid of the Israelis. The fact that they don’t proves that they still harbor delusions about the “right of return” and the endgame of a single Arab state encompassing all of historic Palestine. They are unwilling to sign an agreement that nullifies it.

    To put it quite simply, recognizing a Jewish state means that the conflict, over, and there will no more demands. And that’s why Olmert demanded the same thing.

    • “If they were yearning for their own state, they would gladly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, to get rid of the Israelis.”

      I think you are wrong. The only thing that will ‘get rid’ of the occupation is a legal treaty (contract) that finally and resolutely settles the claims of two peoples. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is irrelevant to that outsome. Netanyahu knows this. Or else he’d say that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state itself settles all outstanding claims. He can’t do this. Therefore, he is using this demand as a ‘poison pill’. Don’t be so naive.

      • I agree with your observation that the demand to be recognized as a Jewish state is a mean to end all negotiations, or to use your expression “a poison pill”. The Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state — neither would I were I a Palestinian.

        • The Palestinians cannot recognize Israel as anything but their occupier. To recognize it in any other way is simply endorsing a military occupation, and admitting the blockades, land grabs, demolition of homes, control of their water, and inability to move freely within their territories, is okay. If Israel is recognized by the Palestinians as a Jewish state, would Israel then reciprocate and recognize Palestine as an Arab or Islamic state? Fair is fair.
          The US should insist on this.
          Bibi keeps moving the goal post, and the US is foolish enough to think it can score that goal.

        • per Marianna “would Israel then reciprocate and recognize Palestine as an Arab or Islamic state?”

          I don’t see how the Palestinians would even WANT this. Remember, they’re a mixture of Christians and Moslems and more. They’re NOT a quasi-theocracy, like Israel is suggesting that it is. Palestine is also NOT ethnically-pure, as Israel sometimes seems to claim that it is. (Judaism: it’s a religion! No, it’s an ethnicity! Not to mention a floor wax and dessert topping!)

          For Americans, having a state declare it has a state religion ought to be a non-starter. We can tolerate it, but should not encourage it, much less demand it from others.

          Moreover, we’re still waiting for Israel to recognize that Palestine has a “right to exist.”

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