Talking Points Against “Jewish State” Fall Short

As John Kerry continues to push for an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement, there has been increasing focus on the question of whether Palestinian leaders will accept the legitimacy of Israel as it fundamentally is — the Jewish state. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas reportedly shot down Kerry’s request that an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement include recognition of the Jewish state. Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, calls such recognition a “minimal requirement for peace.”

At first glance, the idea might seem uncontroversial. Many in the West, after all, feel the concept of “two states for two peoples” is what peace negotiations are all about. Of course Israel is the Jewish state. And of course Palestine would be the country for Palestinians to exercise their national self-determination. The Quartet, an umbrella of Middle East mediators comprised of the UN, US, EU and Russia, agrees. But even among more moderate Palestinians — those who don’t explicitly call for replacing Israel with an Islamic or a bi-national state, and replacing the Jewish majority with an Arab one — the call tends not to be for two states for two peoples but simply for two states, period.

Although the mantras sound deceptively similar, the omission of “two peoples” is deliberate and consequential. By leaving that out, you leave out the Jews. As Abbas bluntly stated in a 2011 interview, “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a ‘Jewish state.’” In more recent comments, Abbas is quoted insisting he will not “accept” such a state, either. To help make sense of the debate, it is worth unpacking some of the talking points that have been used to defend Abbas’s refusal to accept a Jewish state. …


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