Reuters is reporting that a recent Quartet statement about moving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations forward which was supposed to be a substantive one laying out parameters for a settlement, foundered on U.S. insistence that it must include reference to Israel as a Jewish state:
The issue of whether and how to suggest that Israel should be a Jewish state ultimately sank diplomatic efforts to draft a substantive statement to revive peace talks, sources familiar with the matter said.
…”As well as being wrapped around the settlements freeze axel, we now seem to be wrapped around the ‘Jewish state’ axel too,” said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs now at the Brookings Institution think tank.
U.S. officials originally hoped to enshrine a central bargain in the statement: that the borders of a Palestinian state would follow the lines prior to the 1967 war, with mutually agreed swaps, and Israel would be a Jewish state.
Folks, this is pure Dennis Ross. And worse, it’s Barack Obama being led by the nose by Dennis Ross, while Ross is doing the bidding of Israel’s Likud. I’ll say for what seems like the 100th time: the insistence that Palestine accept Israel as a Jewish state is a red herring. It has never been a part of any Israeli condition until the last few years. Before that, it was never heard. There is no reason why Palestine should make any acknowledgement of what sort of state Israel should be. The Palestinians plan to run their own state and define it for themselves. Why do they need to help define Israel?
In fact, the purpose of the Jewish state demand is to compel Palestine to give up the Right of Return on behalf of Nakba refugees. This is not an issue that Palestine should weigh in on. It’s an issue between Israel and those refugees themselves. Now, if Israel made a reasonable offer to resettle refugees along the lines suggested in the Geneva Accords, then Palestine could make a reasonable argument that Israel was attempting to meet the refugees halfway. And possibly it could negotiate that on their behalf.
But what Israel is doing is trying to foreclose the issue entirely by claiming that being a Jewish state means that Palestinian refugees will not be welcome to return. At all. Which is a non-starter for every Palestinian except faux ones like Hussein Ibish.
Note, this finely nuanced articulation of the debate over Israel as a Jewish state in the Reuters report, which provides a number of formulations which could satisfy any reasonable Israeli politician who wasn’t to the right of Jabotinsky:
There are many formulas to address whether Israel should be viewed as a Jewish state, including that it is a homeland for the Jewish people or that it embodies the right of the Jewish people to self-determination or that its status as a Jewish state should not prejudice any Palestinian “right of return.”
None of these formulations contradict my own vision of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people (but not necessarily a state in which Jews enjoy supremacy). Nor do they foreclose the right of Palestinians refugees to return to Israel, which could remain a homeland for two peoples.