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'Jewish state' demand bares clashing Mideast narratives
Published Sunday 26/01/2014 (updated) 28/01/2014 10:44
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US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers the keynote address at the
Saban Forum in Washington on Dec. 7, 2013 (AFP/File Nicholas Kamm)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- The controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is rooted in the clashing historical narratives of the decades-old conflict.

Palestinians have dismissed the demand, pointing to the fact that they recognized Israel in 1993 at the start of the peace process and insisting it's not for other nations to define a state's national or religious character.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, reportedly agrees, and this week was said to have called the request "unnecessary."

But Netanyahu insists the demand gets to the very heart of the conflict, which he says is the refusal of Arabs to accept the right of Jews to a nation-state in the Middle East.

For Israel, the Zionist dream was realized in 1948, but for the Palestinians that year brought the "Nakba," or catastrophe, when 760,000 fled or were forced out of their homeland.

The Palestinians fear that accepting Israel as a "Jewish state" would amount to relinquishing the "right of return" of the refugees -- who now number some five million people -- and undermine the rights of Israel's sizable Arab minority.

The dispute was thrown into focus last weekend when the UN cultural agency suspended an exhibit tracing 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Holy Land following a complaint by 22 Arab member states that it would "impact negatively" on US-brokered peace talks relaunched last year.

In Israel, cancellation of the exhibition was seen as an Arab-led attempt to legitimize the millenia-long Jewish connection to the land.

"It would not harm the negotiations. Negotiations are based on facts, on the truth, which is never harmful," Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

The Palestinians, who view themselves as the descendants of all the various peoples who have dwelled in the Holy Land since ancient times, saw the staging of the exhibit as an attempt to legitimize their own connection to the land.

And they view the "Jewish state" demand as a departure from the peace talks, which they say are aimed at creating a Palestinian state and ending the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that began in 1967.

"We totally reject, on principle, the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state," President Mahmoud Abbas said last Friday in Morocco.

"We reject attempts to rub out our historical narrative and to erase our collective memory," said the Palestinian president, who himself is a refugee from 1948.

'Obsessive-compulsive behavior'

Senior PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath said last week that Israel had succeeded in imposing its view of events on the latest peace talks, which are being steered by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"From the Israeli point of view, recognition of the state of Israel as a Jewish state is equal to cancelling the right of return, based on (UN) Resolution 194," he said, describing it as "an entirely new requirement."

According to Tel Aviv daily Israel Hayom, Peres also sees Netanyahu's position as problematic.

"In conversations held by Peres in the past weeks with senior diplomatic and political figures, he explained that this insistence by Netanyahu was 'unnecessary,' ... since it could derail the peace negotiations," the paper wrote.

"The position of Peres is important and proves that recognition of a Jewish State is not among the final status issues," chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP, referring to core disputes over borders, Jerusalem and security arrangements.

The question of the 1948 refugees is one of the most thorny issues of the talks, with the Palestinians insisting the matter be resolved on the basis of resolution 194, which defines principles for their "right of return."

"We will never accept the violation of the rights of refugees, which are guaranteed by international law and international resolutions," Abbas said.

Israel opposes the return of the refugees and their descendants, arguing that it would destroy the state's national and religious character by making Jews a minority.

But writing in Israeli daily Haaretz, leftwing commentator Gideon Levy compared Israel to a neurotic person who constantly has to check whether a door is locked or not.

"Israel is exhibiting classic signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior," he wrote.

"Everything is directed to achieve the goal that was reached long ago. ... The prime minister invents demands that the Palestinians recognize a locked door."
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1 ) Ahmad bin Abdullah / Australia
26/01/2014 22:11
It is hard to believe that Israel was created as a refuge for oppressed people. Now Israel is the most oppressive country against people who do not agree with the notion of an exclusive Jewish state. South Africa was nasty but Israel is evil

2 ) Wayne / nz
27/01/2014 06:49
Yeah, its funny that Israeli became the very thing they were getting away from , its like the abused child has turn into the parent that abused them. And its everyone else that is to blame. Never mind. Court seems to sort the good from the bad. Just how will Israeli go in court ? I think they will go ..... with air strikes to the West Bank and Gaza....

3 ) Marcos / Mexico
27/01/2014 16:12
"Israel opposes the return of refugees... arguing that it would destroy the state's national and religious character" Well, they should have thought twice before their evil doing.

4 ) Outlier / USA
27/01/2014 23:43
Double standard here. Tunisia just passed a constitution that guaranteed freedom of religion, but says Islam is the state religion. Palestinians should be protesting the Tunisian move, but because it is Islam, they will not.

5 ) Mel / USA
28/01/2014 01:06
F*** that Nutty! That's like demanding,Jews,Catholics,Romanies,Dissidents etc,in Nazi-occupied W/E Europe,in 1940's,"Do you recognize the Nazi Protestant (expansion into your homes/lands without your permission)State? "Yes!Of course we do Adolf! Here,we'll dig our own graves&buy the Cyclon-B too!"Shove it Nutty! ICC/ICJ! End ISRAEL'S OCUPATION,SIEGE,WAR CRIMES,move Israel back to pre-67 borders,formalize them,& Israel can call itself 'TheJewish Humptey-dumptey'?No-one CARES! END THE OCCUPATION!

6 ) Outlier / USA
28/01/2014 18:45
Mel, please find your meds. Reality is calling.

7 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
28/01/2014 21:15
Well, by Palestinian stanadards there is no such thing as the "Palestinian nation", so where's the need for a country? There never was a country called "Palestine", and the Arabs living here were simply that - Arabs. If anything, a new country should be called "Palestinian Arabia" - but then, why not just wrap it in with the neighbors?

8 ) Rafael / USA
28/01/2014 22:48
Obviously if Palestinians wanted peace with Israel they would say welcome Jewish neighbors. We understand the Arabs living in Israel have democratic rights, freedom of religion, vote, hold office, etc. We will have our state and be peaceful neighbors who do not need a military and will take any Palestinian from the outside back into the West Bank. If peace is not the goal, the PA says, Israel you must take Palestinians into Israel. Later we intend to conquer it after we flood it with Arabs.

9 ) cheruvskiy / Naija
29/01/2014 01:42
The palestinian arabs have 2 states which are the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan and the Islamic state of Azzah whilst the palestinian Jews have just the state of Israel.when Yarden had the Judea weSamaria area before '67,they couldn't declare a state kos they knew the land smelt of jews.now the Jews have their land back so the palestinians should quit noisemaking and turn Azzah into Singapore!!!!!!

10 ) Colin Wright / USA
29/01/2014 02:45
Please: no moral equivalence games. This isn't a matter of 'clashing Mideast narratives.' It's a matter of a lot of Nazis trying to crush their chosen victims.

11 ) Outlier / USA
29/01/2014 18:42
10., Nice, Colin - equivalency is your comment exactly. Hypocrite.

12 ) Colin Wright / USA
03/02/2014 23:24
To Outlier #11: '10., Nice, Colin - equivalency is your comment exactly. Hypocrite.' I fail to see the hypocrisy. Zionists are Nazis, and if other Nazis were around, I'd oppose them as well. Members of my family on both sides served against the originals, and I fail to see why I wouldn't have. If you're suggesting I should do more about their successors, perhaps you're right.

13 ) Colin Wright / USA
03/02/2014 23:26
To cheruvskiy #9: 'The palestinian arabs have 2 states which are the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan and the Islamic state of Azzah whilst the palestinian Jews have just the state of Israel...' This promptly falls apart when one realizes that the closest thing to 'the Palestinian Jews' currently around are the Palestinians themselves. That they've changed religions hardly deprives them of their birthright.

14 ) Colin Wright / USA
03/02/2014 23:29
To Rafael #8: 'Obviously if Palestinians wanted peace with Israel they would say welcome Jewish neighbors...' How does that follow? Presumably, you want peace. You live in the USA: me and mine are coming over tonight, shutting you and yours up in the garage, and taking the house. I assume you'll say 'welcome Colin neighbors.'

15 ) fisheries biologist / USA
04/03/2014 02:27
"Palestinians have dismissed the demand, pointing to the fact that they recognized Israel in 1993 at the start of the peace process and insisting it's not for other nations to define a state's national or religious character." Why must only the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, why not demand that every country and occupied area recognize Israel as a Jewish state. A Democratic Israel can't exist if it is a Jewish state but maybe that's the plan. If you aren't Jewish, leave Israel.
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