In a speech he delivered one week ago in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert presented his political worldview in advance of the Annapolis conference.
There were two firm statements made by Olmert:
One is that the supreme objective in Annapolis is “to fulfill the vision of two states: The State of Israel—the state of the Jewish people, and the Palestinian state—the state of the Palestinian people.”
The other is that there would be no negotiation over this objective: “We will not negotiate over the State of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. We will not bargain over the Palestinian people’s right to a state of their own.”
Olmert is the first prime minister of Israel to publicly raise, and in such a sharp and clear fashion, the demand to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state.
Ostensibly, this is simple and clear: A state for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinian people, but notice that usually people settle for saying “two states for two peoples” without specifying the Jewish people.
It is interesting to note that in binding international declarations and resolutions, it is rare to have mention of a Jewish state.
The Balfour Declaration of November 2nd, 1917 promised a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. This declaration was accorded international ratification at the San Remo conference of the League of Nations in 1922, when Great Britain received the mandate to oversee the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. The UN inherited and reinforced that resolution in 1946, and, in November 1947, endorsed the establishment of a Jewish state alongside an
Arab state in Palestine.
However, ever since UN Security Council Resolution 242 that was adopted on November 22nd, 1967, which still serves as the main international basis of any Israeli-Arab arrangement, the wording of all international agreements have referred to “recognizing the State of Israel’s existence” or “recognizing the State of Israel’s right to exist,” without stating that this is a Jewish state or the state of the Jewish people.
Indeed, in peace agreements signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1993, and in the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords and in the 2003 road map as well, the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, the state of the Jewish people, does not exist.
However: President George W. Bush, at the Aqaba summit of 2003, was the first senior US official to state explicitly and publicly that a democratic Palestinian state at full peace with Israel would advance the security and prosperity of the State of Israel - as a Jewish state.
The core of the problem is that Arab states and the Palestinians, along with a small minority of Israeli Jews, are not willing to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state or the state of the Jewish people. The most that some of them are willing to recognize is the State of Israel’s right to exist. Why?
There are three reasons for this: First, an ideological-psychological reason. Unwillingness to accept the existence of a Jewish state within the Muslim-Arab world. The Arab world did take a very large step forward after 1967, when it was willing to accept the fact of the State of Israel’s existence (unlike beforehand), but no more than this. The second reason lies with the Palestinian refugees and their descendents who have been wallowing in UNRWA United Nations refugee camps since 1948, under the specious premise and promise of the right of return to homes and villages that no longer exist.
Recognition of a Jewish state means, in practical terms, giving up the “right of return” of these refugees and their descendents to Israel. The deeper meaning is Palestinian promotion of the “Jewish sin” which caused their expulsion from their homeland.
The third reason is the growing trend among Israeli Arabs, or as they define themselves, “Palestinian Arab citizens of the State of Israel.” They constitute a quarter of the population of the Palestinian Arab people
currently living within the Land of Israel, and about 300,000-400,000 of them define themselves as refugees (who live in Israel, but were forced to leave their homes in 1948). Their leadership openly declares that they do not recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state, plain and simple.
The Annapolis conference will provide a litmus test for the Palestinians and for the Arab states:
Are they willing to have a simple call for a two-state vision to issue from there—a state for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinian people—or are they opposed to this?
On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erakat rejected Olmert's premise that the Palestinians would have to to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Will Olmert stand by his principles? Stay tuned for Annapolis, November 26th, 2007.