Recognising Israel as a Jewish state?
Fresh rejection by the Palestinian ‘moderates’

Published: 11 December 2010
Briefing Number 272

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Summary:    The leaders of the Palestinian ‘moderate’ wing absolutely refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, or as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  This refusal is absolute, and has been consistent for many years.  This Briefing highlights three fresh illustrations of the refusal, from the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Mahmoud Abbas and Nabil Sha’ath.   

Key message: A two-state solution has to be built on mutual recognition – ie recognition by Israel of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, and recognition by the Palestinians of the legitimate national rights of the Jewish people.  The Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state contradicts this framework, and undermines the possibility of a two-state solution.  It is nothing less than an ideological assault on the heart of the peace process.  And it demonstrates that the most fundamental obstacle to Palestinian self-determination is not Israeli attitudes to a Palestinian state, but Palestinian attitudes towards a Jewish state. 

This Briefing illustrates how intransigent and rejectionist those Palestinian attitudes are.  

Fatah Revolutionary Council: no recognition of Jewish state

The Fatah Revolutionary Council is the senior decision-making forum of the leading Palestinian faction Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority.  At the end of a three-day meeting in Ramallah in the West Bank at the end of November 2010, the Council published the following statement:

“The Council affirms its rejection of the so-called Jewish state or any other formula that could achieve this goal…. The Council also renews its refusal for the establishment of any racist state based on religion in accordance with international law and human rights conventions…”

- reported by Khaled abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, 28 November 2010

Beyond Images comments:

  • Fatah demand a Palestinian state, yet refuse to recognise a Jewish one.
  • If a ‘Jewish state’ is a “racist” concept, then so is the concept of a ‘Palestinian state’ (see Beyond Images Briefing 257 on the false claim that a Jewish state is a “racist” concept).
  • In truth, the Jews are not a race. Nor are they a religion. They are a people.  And as a people the Jews have the right of national self-determination, as a matter of universal morality and international law 
  • By rejecting that right, the Fatah Revolutionary Council is placing a fundamental obstacle in the way of a two-state solution
  • Unfortunately, the Council is echoing the attitude of the entire ‘moderate’ leadership of the Palestinian people, as this Briefing and previous Beyond Images Briefings illustrate       

Mahmoud Abbas: no recognition of Jewish state

Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian ‘moderates’, and the President of the Palestinian Authority.  Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported in the Jerusalem Post on 8 November 2010 that during Abbas’ recent visit to the United Arab Emirates:

“…. Abbas reiterated his refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.  Israel’s goal behind such a demand was to “expel about 1.5 million Israeli Arabs”, Abbas said.  By raising such a demand, Abbas said that Israel was seeking to “close the door to the right of return for Palestinian refugees…..”

Beyond Images comments:

  • Abbas has got the situation backwards.  It is the Palestinian Arabs who openly state they wish expel the Jews, not the Israelis who wish to expel the Israeli Arabs
  • Israel’s Arab population enjoy the protection of the law, and democratic rights as citizens of Israel 
  • Every time Israel even hints at a redrawing of borders to place some Israeli Arabs within Palestinian jurisdiction, there is an outcry among Israeli Arabs.  And that is not a proposal to physically expel them, but to move the legal boundaries of the country (see Beyond Images Briefing 82)   
  • Not only is there no Israeli plan to expel Israel’s Arabs, the Israeli Arabs overwhelmingly want to stay citizens of the country (see Beyond Images Briefing 219)
  • It is Abbas himself who has plans to expel ‘others’, namely Jews. He has stated several times that a future Palestinian state on the West Bank would be Jew-free.  For instance: “We clarified that the Palestinian Authority would not agree to continued Israeli presence, military or civil, within a future Palestinian state…” (comments made by Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian paper al-Ayyam, reported by Jerusalem Post on 6 September 2010)
  • As far as the ‘right of return’ is concerned, Abbas is in one sense correct.  Israel does require the Palestinians to relinquish their claim of a ‘right of return’ into Israel.   It is impossible for the Palestinians to claim that they are in favour of peace and a two-state solution, while being unwilling to concede the so-called ‘right of return’, under which millions of Palestinians would enjoy a right to live in Israel 

Nabil Sha’ath: no recognition of the Jewish state

Nabil Sha’ath is one of the most senior and experienced Palestinian negotiators for Fatah.  He is urbane, effective in front of the Western cameras in English, and, once again, always labelled as ‘moderate’.  He said (as quoted in the Jerusalem Post on 8 September 2010):

“The Palestinian Authority will never recognise Israel as the Jewish state because such a declaration will negate the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their home….”   

Beyond Images comments:

  • This is the same argument as Mahmoud Abbas uses (see the section above). And it illustrates the same point.  The Palestinian moderates claim to want peace, but do not seem to realise this means tough sacrifices and the toughest of all will be to relinquish the so-called ‘right of return’ into Israel 
  • Even ‘moderates’ like Sha’ath simply do not seem to realise it – not least as the ‘right of return’ is so embedded in Palestinian culture and politics (see for instance Beyond Images Briefing 39
  • Sha’ath and Abbas’s comments also demonstrate that it is not territory which is at the root of the conflict, but ideology.   Even if Israel withdrew from every centimetre of the West Bank tomorrow, and an independent Palestinian state was set up there, neither Abbas nor Sha’ath would be satisfied, because they cannot contemplate an agreement without having the right to exercise the ‘right of return’, into Israel…..        

Key messages

  • We have covered this theme before, including  in Beyond Images Briefing 226 of 8 December 2008
  • That Briefing highlighted rejection of the Jewish state by the entire leadership of the moderate Palestinians, namely: Salam Fayyad, Ahmed Qurei, Saeb Erekat, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Mahmoud Abbas
  • We addressed their arguments and refuted them in that Briefing, as we have refuted the arguments referred to in this Briefing. too 
  • But the sobering reality is that Palestinian attitudes on this issue have not moved at all in the two years between then and now 
  • There is a universal, unhesitating, Palestinian ‘no’ to recognition of the Jewish state
  • These are the leaders whom the world seems to believe can lead the Palestinians to a secure long-term coexistence side-by-side with Israel 
  • As these statements illustrate, they have not made even the first ideological step on that long journey
  • And almost as serious, none of the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed supporters and friends outside the region are pressing them to change their thinking on this  
  • There is complete silence on what can only be described as Palestinian ideological corruption
  • As we have said many times in Beyond Images Briefings, the most serious block to Palestinian self-determination is not Israeli attitudes to a Palestinian state, but Palestinian attitudes to the Jewish state
  • This Briefing shows how intransigent and inflexible these attitudes are….         

Challenge: “Why is Israel raising recognition? Surely Israel is putting another technical obstacle in the way of peace? They were recognised years ago…..”

Some commentators argue that the whole issue of recognising Israel as a Jewish state is irrelevant. They suggest that Israel has raised it expressly in order to place extra obstacles in the way of a solution.  They also claim that recognition of Israel is in any case implicit in past peace talks with the Palestinians.

These arguments misunderstand the nature of the issue. 

Mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestinians has to be built on a set of  attitudes.  Policies on the ground flow from those.  If the Palestinians do not recognise Israel as a Jewish state, then that is a guaranteed formula for continued conflict.  It indicates that the Palestinians have not reconciled themselves to the legitimacy of Israel; and that they cannot bring themselves to “end the conflict”.  They might accept the fact that Jews live in the land; but they do not accept, and have not internalised, the Jews’ right to do so in a sovereign Jewish state

Many other aspects of Palestinian rejectionism are related to their basic refusal to recognise the Jewish state; those aspects include the so-called ‘naqba’ narrative; the Palestinian sense of permanent victimhood; the denial of Jewish history and the connection to the land; efforts to outlaw Israel internationally; PA-sponsored media incitement against Israel; the dogged demand for an open-ended ‘right of return’, and the legitimisation of terrorist violence.   

All of these are symptoms of the mindset which refuses to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.  

Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state was first expressly tabled in 2007, before a previous round of negotiations.  This demand is not a trick by Israel to derail talks; it is a belated demand which is entirely reasonable for Israel to table, and which many Israelis took for granted that the moderate Palestinians would accept          

Related Beyond Images Briefings

‘Recognising Israel as a Jewish state?  Mainstream Palestinian leaders refuse to do so….’ (Beyond Images Briefing 226, dated 8 December 2008).

‘Saeb Erekat: the concept of a Jewish state should be left to be negotiated….’
(Beyond Images Briefing 90, May 2004)

‘Rejection of Israel in the Muslim world – observations by a pioneer of dialogue….’ (Beyond Images Briefing 145, June 2005)