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Abbas Demands Israel Recognize Palestine as Muslim State

One of Bibi Netanyahu’s non-starter demands is that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  Forget the fact that it is more than just a Jewish state since it is also a state for its Muslim, Christian and Druze citizens.  Think about how ridiculous it would be for Mahmoud Abbas–or even Ismail Haniye for that matter–to demand that Israel recognize Palestine as a Muslim state, before Palestine would negotiate a peace agreement.

My more ‘pro-Israel’ readers will object that it is less critical that there be yet another Muslim state in the world while there is only ONE Jewish one.    So let’s turn the tables and say hypothetically there is no other Muslim state in the world besides Palestine.  Still, and I repeat the question, why in heaven’s name does it make any difference whether Bibi Netanyahu concedes that Palestine is Muslim? I’d say it’s none of Bibi’s damn business whether Palestine is Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Shinto for that matter.

Similarly, it’s none of Abbas’ business what Israel is.  That’s for Israelis to decide.

Does Mexico demand that we recognize it as a Catholic state before we negotiate cross-border agreements?  Should we insist that Canada recognize that the U.S. as a Christian nation before we negotiate the next thorny issue confronting our two nations?

Now to return to one of the more problematic aspects of the issue of Israel as a Jewish state.  If Israel is a Jewish state, then it is not a democratic state.  It is an ethnocratic state.  That is, a state with a hierarchy of rights with Jews at the top and Muslims at the bottom.

This is not to say that Israel, in an ideal articulation, could not be a state in which its Jewish citizens see it as a Jewish homeland while its Arab or Muslim citizens see it as their respective ethnic homeland as well.  To concede this is not to concede that Jews will lose recognition of any of their Jewishness within this reframed state.  Instead, what will happen is the re-envisioned state will expand its conception to embrace all its citizens and their respective religions and ethnicities.

Make no mistake, my rightward pro-Israel readers call this “the death of Israel as a Jewish state” or “the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.”  It is nothing of the sort.  If Israel continues to embrace its Jewish citizens while reaching out additionally to its Arab citizens, this is the death of nothing.  It is different from the current system.  But nothing need die if Israel adopts a truly multi-ethnic egalitarian model.

And another point which Tony Karon raises, if Israel is to claim it is a Jewish state this implies a continuity of values or interests with the rest of the world’s Jews.  But who has asked Diaspora Jews whether Israel is their state?  Who has given Israel the right to speak for them as Jews?  Yes, there are many older generation Jews and the Israel lobby which accept this deal.  But increasingly, a younger generation of Jews doesn’t.

If Israel is to become a state of all its citizens it would be far healthier for there to be more of a distinction between Diaspora and Israeli Jewish interests.  I do not say that they should never overlap, but there certainly should be nothing wrong when they don’t.  Israel must earn the support of the world’s Jews, that support should not be automatic or assumed.  If Israel realizes the Jewish values of Diaspora Jews then it should gain our support.  If it violates our conception of such values it should not assume we will fall into line like good soldiers.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Warren June 16, 2009, 11:15 PM

    I agree that Abbas is, perhaps inadvertently, showing up the ridiculousness of the Israeli request. No nation is required to recognize another along the lines demanded by the fanatic Netanyahu (or is it yahoo?).

    A further complication on the Palestinian side however, are the Palestinian Christians. What about them? Come to think of it, it’s not an exact parallel since being Muslim is explicitly a religious identification whereas being Jewish is often not confined to the religious realm but also encompasses an ethnic (for lack of a better term) identification for many Jews, as far as I can tell. This whole tit-for-tat is so absurd, yet I sort of understand where Abbas is coming from though I think he is being wrong-headed in stooping to Netanyahu’s level. Faced with these fanatical Israeli demands, he surely feels painted in a corner.

    • Richard Silverstein June 17, 2009, 12:42 AM

      I am sorry I didn’t make this clearer, but Abbas hasn’t made this demand. I made it up to make a point. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Warren June 17, 2009, 1:00 AM

    Thanks for the correction, Richard. The “think of how ridiculous it would be if…” somehow slipped by me or I jumped off too quickly from the title of the post. A mini H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” moment there in my own head. At least I didn’t jump out the window of a tall building…

    • Richard Silverstein June 17, 2009, 3:44 PM

      At least I didn’t jump out the window of a tall building

      God forbid. I value you too much as a reader (& human being) to lose you.

  • Eurosabra June 17, 2009, 2:14 AM

    Recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is intended to forestall a Palestinian state’s aid to Israeli-Palestinian demographic transformation of Israel into an Islamic state, at least on paper. Since the Fateh Charter claims “Jews resident in Palestine before the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinian” (Article 6), the recognition that Israel is the Jewish state and thus the state of Palestinian Jews as such represents a renunciation of the claim to jurisdiction over those Jewish residents. I realize this is arcana and that Israeli-Palestinians need firmer citizenship guarantees, but what we want to avoid is a situation in which people who were “natives” under the colonial regime are “promoted” to statelessness or a citizenship they have no wish to hold as the M’zab Jews were, for not being Muslim–they were Jews, therefore neither French nor Algerian, until the French took them in, ex gratia, and as Palestinian Jews and Israeli-Palestinians might be. Which in this case works out to both Israel and Palestine being asked to honor Israeli citizenship, whatever the ethnicity of the citizen.

    • Richard Silverstein June 18, 2009, 3:09 PM

      Israeli-Palestinian demographic transformation of Israel into an Islamic state

      Israeli Jews should be about as frightened of a possible Islamic state on their territory as Israeli Arabs should be of a Jewish theocratic state on THEIR territory. And each one is about as likely to really happen.

      Since the Fateh Charter

      Wow, most MEMRIniks quote from the Hamas charter to score their pts. But you’ve done them one better. You’re quoting the Fatah charter. Yashar koach. I don’t know what you’ve proven, but I think you’ve delved even deeper into the murky recesses of Palestinian historical archives than Itamar Marcus and Daniel Pipes.

      I realize this is arcana

      Gee, d’ya think??

      • Eurosabra June 19, 2009, 7:18 AM

        I am somewhat cheered by the fact that you have more faith that Israel/Palestine will not become theocracies.

        The point was relevant because in contrast to Jordanian citizenship law which says “those resident in Palestine, not being Jews” are citizens Fateh made a claim that some Palestinian Jews could be Palestinians. Israel’s recognition as a Jewish state by Palestine precludes that, but what people don’t realize is that the offer of Palestinian citizenship is MORE liberal than what was on offer to some. How many M’zab Jews have you met? How many Arab Jews who became apatride wanderers of the Earth have you met? There were people who were “natives” to the Europeans and their “Arab brothers” “liberated” them straight into a Palestinian-style hell, in the name of a secular Muslim nation. Unlike every other Algerian, they had no potential citizenship other than “Jewish”, so I think it’s important that Palestine recognize that possibility, the same way that “Samaritan” identity functions to give non-Jews a right-of-return to Israel. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state removes the time-boundedness of the Fateh charter’s restriction and would give post-Balfour Jews Palestinian citizenship by succession even if Israel disappeared.

        I’m not interested in scoring points. I’ve seen too much blood and death for that, but I’m killing time before the next go-round calls me up as a healer again, and your blog touches on the interesting corners where some of my academic expertise is relevant.

  • LD June 17, 2009, 4:55 AM

    Actually, we do have a right to voice concern over how a State defines itself.

    The only reason Israel can call itself a JEWISH majority is because 800K Palestinians were ethnically cleansed.

    You could not have a Jewish State without the displacement and dispossession of the indigenous population.

    Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish State. No discriminatory State has the right to exist. Very few States today have a right to exist.

    The only way the Palestinians will ever accept Israel as a Jewish State is if Israel annihilates them in which case, their silence would do the talking.

    It’s insane how we’re talking about terrorism and all this garbage when the simple fact is that people have a right to live and to return to their homes. We’re making such huge concessions for the Jewish State because it’s Jewish. We didn’t give Indonesia the same patience DID WE?

    No. We sit here and listen to this garbage about radical Islam and Islamo-blah blah.

    Yes, we get it. There are religious fundamentalists. There is terrorism, but that’s hardly the great evil of our times. The West thrives on the misery of the third world and Israel is a symbol of Western imperialism and is itself a colonial State.

    Who f—kin cares if Israel has rights for homosexuals and blah blah. As if the Arabs couldn’t do the same thing if they weren’t dominated by PUPPET REGIMES AND CORRUPT FAMILY DICTATORSHIPS THAT ISRAEL THE US AND THE ENTIRE WESTERN BODY POLITIC PREFERS.

    The Arabs are not animals like the Jewish supremacists and racists would have people believe. Most people are good and have the capacity to think progressively. There’s always a reason why things are they way they are.

    Even the Germans had legitimate grievances as do the racist and fascist Zionists do as well. And YES, I am comparing Nazis to Zionists.

    In many ways I think it’s insulting to the Nazis because just because genocide is not fashionable anymore doesn’t excuse the disgusting sanctimony of Zionism. I’d compare the Nazis to the Euro-American colonists who stole America as well. They too thought God chose them.

    How pathetic is it that THESE people are the ones we see on television and whom we see idolized in television and movies (that motif of the American soldier as a hero helping out the third world or the motif of perpetual Jewish victim-hood).

    We’re the problem. Not Islam. Not the Palestinians. Etc.

  • Warren June 17, 2009, 4:01 PM

    Richard, it was a rather morbid joke, sorry. Do you remember hearing about when H.G. Wells had his “War of the Worlds” broadcast over the radio all around the country as pure, straight news, “the Earth is being invaded by Martians”, etc. (this was back in the 20’s or 30’s I believe). Many people didn’t get that it was a spoof and you actually had some businessmen and secretaries, etc., jump out the windows of tall office buildings in sheer terror at the prospect of an alien invasion. I was just making fun of myself in the context of this thread. (Alas, since I’m 35 this bizarre historical misadventure happened well before my time.)

    • fiddler June 18, 2009, 1:49 PM

      It was H.G. Wells’ story, but Orson Welles’ radio version, the first of his many claims to fame, that did the trick, in the late 30s.

  • Brad Stroud June 17, 2009, 4:55 PM

    I think the Palestinian/Arab side really needs to get more creative, pro-active and perhaps even irreverent in challenging these Israeli conditions. Perhaps some sharp, witty, yet borderline serious responses would show up the absurdity of Israel’s current stance. Although I’m sure many of you out there could be more creative on this, here it goes:

    -Concede Israel’s right to exist … but only within the 1949 borders. Israel insists on this right, never specifying where it has this right. So state where. Maybe add that this right only obtains in conjunction with Israel’s conceding Palestine’s right to exist everywhere else. Sounds like a reasonable starting point to negotiations.

    -Given the above, Palestinians could show their willingness to compromise by renouncing the right of return where Israel has a right to exist. Again, good starting point.

    -In response, agree to define Israel as a “Jewish State consisting of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druids etc.”. Or maybe Israel as the “Jewish State made up of Jews and Gentiles equal before the law in all respects”.

    -Insist on Jerusalem as an undivided international city (with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s Capital!)

    -Claim all settlements as Palestinian and pronounce all settlers as Jewish-Palestinians. Announce a “Palestine Right to Exist” levy on the settlers to help promote amongst the settlers their new status as Palestinians. Offer to negotiate with Israel regarding Jewish-Palestinian emigration to where Israel has the right to exist.

    -Fatah, of course, should simply recognize the Palestinian elections of 2006 and grant Hamas its rightful electoral status. Better, Fatah should dissolve and all should join Hamas. We are all Hamas now Israel. Let’s negotiate.

    • Andy June 17, 2009, 8:40 PM

      Brad, I have a similar, but simpler, idea. Given that a “Jewish state”, like beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder, I propose that we define a “Jewish state” as a state that treats one and all according to the following famous words of Hillel:

      “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
      – quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_the_Elder

      In other words, a “Jewish state” should mean, by definition, equality for all. Israel, a Jewish state? Israel’s Jews should try it: it would be a good idea.

  • Eurosabra June 17, 2009, 11:06 PM

    The critical element is that as a Jewish state, Israel has a prime duty to Jews in danger in that Diaspora that it does not have to Palestinians in their Diaspora, whose claim to refuge would be satisfied by guaranteed entry and refuge in a West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state.

    Recognition of the 1949 borders is a non-starter, no Palestinian faction has ever said “borders of Israel”, although Hamas likes to state that it will accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. So the Palestinians have announced that they will accept “everywhere else” and they’re being canny about what they will not get and what they might or might not recognize as Israel.

    I am amused by the concept of Israel as a Jewish state containing a Druid-minority Arabic speaking population. If your expertise extends so far, the Palestinians would be well advised to shun every iota of your advice.

    Your idea of a levy for Jewish-Palestinians has a long and honored history in Islamic Palestine, it is called jizya and it is paid by dhimmis.

    “You are all Hamas?”=what’s left to negotiate? The terms under which Israel will be governed by the Caliphate?

    • Richard Silverstein June 18, 2009, 3:14 PM

      Israel has a prime duty to Jews in danger in that Diaspora that it does not have to Palestinians in their Diaspora, whose claim to refuge would be satisfied by guaranteed entry and refuge in a West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state.

      Well, that may be yr formulation & Tzippi Livni’s but it simply won’t fly. Israel DOES have a prime duty to recognize a Right of Return for refugees it displaced in 1948 & their descendants. HOW it recognizes this right is something for both parties to determine. But shunting them off to a Palestinian state & saying Israel has absolutely no responsibility or obligations is a non-starter. But nice try.

      • Eurosabra June 19, 2009, 7:24 AM

        I don’t think the conflict will be resolved by negotiations, so this formulation is as relevant at this stage to the un-resolved conflict currently NOT being negotiated as any other proposal. You presume to define reality for both parties, as do most Israel-critical bloggers. Nu?

  • Richard Witty June 18, 2009, 4:33 AM

    “This is not to say that Israel, in an ideal articulation, could not be a state in which its Jewish citizens see it as a Jewish homeland while its Arab or Muslim citizens see it as their respective ethnic homeland as well.”

    That is the difference between a “Jewish haven” and a “Jewish state”.

    Expedited citizenship for immigrating Jews, is very different from exclusive (only Jews allowed to immigrate).

    • Richard Silverstein June 18, 2009, 3:02 PM

      That is the difference between a “Jewish haven” and a “Jewish state”.

      Expedited citizenship for immigrating Jews, is very different from exclusive (only Jews allowed to immigrate)

      No, this would be a state for Jews, Arabs, Christians, Druze–all its inhabitants. But because of its history it would be a special state for its Jewish citizens.

      Expedited citizenship is very different fr. a Right of Return & the latter is a right that would have to be modified in a future arrangement. Anyone who has a defined connection to the State whether they be descendants of Arab refugees or Jews fleeing economic hardship or persecution should have a right to become a citizen. But this should not be an automatic right for anyone.

  • fiddler June 18, 2009, 2:15 PM

    A lot of confusion comes from not distinguishing between the descriptive and the prescriptive in “Jewish state”. If Israel was a state that just happened to be populated mostly by Jews, in the same sense that the US happen to be majority Christian, a majority that could peacefully change at any time without touching the fundamentals of the state, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with the term. But that’s not the state most Jewish Israelis have in mind, do they? What Israeli politicians demand is recognition of a state not of but for Jews, with all the claims to exclusiveness that may imply – a democracy for the Jews and a Jewish state for the Arabs, as Ahmed Tibi said.

  • itzikl June 18, 2009, 6:28 PM

    Richard, Your points are well taken and I am in complete agreement, but it would be strange, even in theory, if the Palestinian state would even WANT to be recognized as a Muslim state, since many Palestinians are Christian and many are committed secularists.

    • Richard Silverstein June 19, 2009, 12:12 AM

      Yes, I recognize that fact. I merely used the term “Muslim state” to counterpose it with the Israeli “Jewish state.” Neither would be a good idea if it excluded other religions.

  • lea January 11, 2010, 9:47 AM

    what hypocrisy! why should a palestinian state be legitimate but not a jewish one. a palestinian state also implies a desire to maintain a palestinian majority. Most countries in the world have an ethnic identity which could theoretically conflict with their definition of themselves as democratic. The US is the exception in this regard not the rule.

    • Richard Silverstein January 11, 2010, 6:15 PM

      Because Israel contains Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestine will contain few, if any Jewish citizens. Unfortunately for yr pt of view, Israel accorded its Palestinian Arab residents citizenship so it must provide them w. similar rights to Jewish citizens. I know it must kill you to admit this (unless you deny it should be so).

      An Israeli state is legitimate as long as it accords equal rights to all citizens. A Jewish state can never do that. Palestine will not become a Muslim state. It will be an ethnic Palestinian state w. a majority Muslim population. Hopefully it will not privilege Muslim citizens over Christians. If it does it will go down Israel’s unfortunate road.

      Israel has a religious identity, which is diff. than an ethnic identity. And no fully democratic nations that I know privilege one ethnic group or religion over another. Can you point to any besides Israel?

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