On the face of it, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state seems like political tactic.
Failure to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, he could argue, would indicate that the Palestinians were not serious about an agreement. On the other hand, recognition would make his acceptance of a future Palestinian state something of a quid pro quo.
As political tactics go, this can work or backfire, but is certainly not a make-or-break issue. His detractors even accuse him of coming up with a demand that he knows the Arabs will not accept (as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak quickly proved in an unequivocal rejection of the idea), thus enabling him to claim that he tried, but they again failed to rise to the occasion.
This, the critics say, will be perceived as Israeli — rather than Arab — recalcitrance and would again entangle him with the Obama administration.
Since when, they contend, does Israel need recognition for its core existence as a Jewish state, and why on earth would Israel need validation from the Arabs? Our definition of what we are is historically inherent in our political genetic code and inextricably tied to who we are.
But beyond the negotiation tactics there is a more fundamental issue. What kind of recognition does Israel expect and is rightfully entitled to from the Arabs? Secondly and consequently, this demand should apply to the entire Arab world and not be limited to the Palestinians.
This goes to the heart of the issue. The Arab world has de-facto recognised Israel’s existence, but not its right to exist. The Arabs recognise Israel as a strategic fact of life, a military power that currently is invincible. Israel, according to this paradigm is not a permanent feature in the Middle East.
Give or take 200 years and they will be driven out. So goes the Arab argument.
This is consistent with Netanyahu’s basic argument that the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the Arab world’s basic reluctance to recognise Israel, rather than a tractable territorial dispute or merely a clash of two national liberation movements. If that was the case, then partition should have been accepted by the Arabs on the numerous occasions it was offered.
So Arab recognition of Israel as the state of the Jews is a monumental educational process that is a prerequisite to lasting peace.
Once Israel is “The state of the Jews” in Arab eyes, it has a right to exist. Once it has a right to exist (this in fact is a silly debate: What “right” to exist do Belgium or Uruguay have?) durable coexistence is attainable.
There is also a demographic reality. There are 1.4 million Palestinians inside Israel, 3.5 million Palestinians in the territories and an approximately 3.5 million living in Jordan. By not recognising Israel’s Jewish character, Palestinians exhibit potential irredentist tendencies. That would prolong the conflict, not end it.
In the end it is political. Arab recognition of Israel as the state of the Jews will not instantly resolve the conflict, yet their immoral and imprudent rejection of the concept will not affect Israel one way or the other.
Alon Pinkas is the former Israeli consul-general in the United States