Recognising Israel as a Jewish state:
Why itís a Palestinian self-interest.... by an Israeli dove

Published: 24 June 2011
Briefing Number 288

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Summary:   Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently calls on the Palestinians to “recognise Israel as a Jewish state”.  In his speech to the US Congress, he said that a meaningful peace process could be unlocked if the Palestinian leader said six words in public: “I will accept a Jewish state”.    

However, many critics of Israeli policies portray this Israeli demand as a ploy to create extra obstacles to agreement.  They argue that the Palestinian mainstream have already recognised Israel.

This Beyond Images Briefing addresses this issue.  It contains an article by Einat Wilf, an Israeli politician and member of the left-of-centre ‘Independence Party’ of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. 

Wilf explains why this Israeli position is not a ploy at all. Rather, she explains why it is a legitimate and vital building block for future peace. Most importantly of all, she argues that recognising Israel as a Jewish state is in fact a vital Palestinian self-interest.  

Key messages:

- Recognising Israel as a Jewish state is a fundamental building block to peace

- It is a legitimate demand of Israel as part of a “two states for two peoples” solution.  

- It would signal that the Palestinians regard the “two-state solution” as marking the end of the conflict with Israel, not another platform for continuing that conflict  

- As long as the Palestinians resist this recognition, there cannot be peace

- The main obstacle to peace is not Israeli attitudes towards a Palestinian state, but Palestinian attitudes towards a Jewish state

- The Palestinians have a strong self-interest in recognising Israel as a Jewish state

- All those who support the Palestinians’ right of self-determination should be urging them to do so

“I will accept a Jewish state”: Six words which would change history.....

In his speech to the US Congress on 24 May 2011 (see Beyond Images Briefing 286, dated 30 May 2011), Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

“..... President Abbas must do what I have done.  I stood before my people, and I told you that it wasn’t easy for me, and I said: ‘I will accept a Palestinian state’.  It is time for Mr Abbas to stand before his people and say: ‘I will accept a Jewish state’.

These six words will change history.  They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end.  That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it.  This will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.  With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise.... If Mr Abbas can make peace with the Jewish state, I promise that Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations.   It will be the first to do so.....”

Background to Einat Wilf, author of the article below

Einat Wilf is a member of the Israeli Parliament, representing the recently-formed Independence Party, a breakaway from the Israeli Labour party.  Wilf is a strong advocate of a two-state solution, and is considered doveish in Israeli political terms.  She is also a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.  Her article appeared in the Jerusalem Post ( on 17 May 2011, and was written in response to a major speech by US President Obama in which he appeared to question the need for the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. 

Wilf writes:

For the Palestinians’ sake
“It seems that US President Barack Obama believes – as some suggest – that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people is merely a hawkish ploy to avoid negotiations, and a sad mark of Israel’s low self-confidence that it needs the Palestinians – of all people – to tell it what it is.

But the Prime Minister’s demand is neither of those things.  It is the one core demand that, once met, will mean that peace is truly possible.  Indeed, Israel does not need Palestinian recognition of its identity as the Jewish state. Those who have dreamt, founded and built it have done so with one purpose in mind: to create a homeland for the Jewish people.  It is Israel’s raison d’etre. 

Rather, it is the Palestinians – for their own sake and dignity – who need to recognise this.

Israel is not a colonial project, as the Palestinians tell themselves.....

Zionism has been a political movement of self-determination for the Jewish people.  The Palestinian national movement was about resisting Zionism and its programme to build a state.  In the process of resisting, and given the continued failure of resistance, the Palestinians have told themselves a story according to which Zionism is a colonial movement that has brought strangers to their land, strangers who – faced with determined resistance – are destined, sooner or later, to leave it.  In doing so, the Palestinians might have been telling themselves a comforting story of hope, but one that they had better discard if they are ever to have a state of their own.

Hope is generally considered to be a positive word, but if it prevents engagement with reality while living in suspended anticipation of some make-believe future that will never materialise, that it is neither positive nor helpful.  Those who feed this hope do the cause of peace and Palestinian statehood no favour.  Zionism, unlike colonial movements, was a movement of people who were coming home. As such, it was not about exploiting the (non-existent) resources of a foreign land, but about exploiting the only resources the Jewish people ever had – their brains and ingenuity – in order to build one, literally from the ground up. 

The Palestinians need to signal to themselves that they recognise the Jewish state

Building a country requires the mobilisation of a people. 

As long as the Palestinians continue to divert their own country-building resources into resisting Israel, and hoping for its disappearance (and yes, hoping that Israel will become a country with a Jewish minority among Arabs is hoping for its disappearance), there will be no peace, and they will have no state.

And yet, should the Palestinians finally recognise that in creating the state of Israel, the Jewish people have come home, the Palestinians will signal to the world, and to Israel, and above all to themselves, that they have chosen to leave behind the siren call of resistance and are ready to get down to the remarkable, difficult and immensely rewarding task of building a state that they can call their own.

[Many would argue that the Palestinians are already state-building, certainly in the West Bank.  However, the institutions they have built and their practical accomplishments are mainly in the economic and administrative spheres. In ideological terms, Palestinian society is still dominated by the denial of Israel’s legitimacy. This is the weakness which Wilf highlights – Beyond Images].  

Some related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 286 – 30 May 2011
Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress, May 2011: key extracts

Briefing 276 – 21 January 2011
Beyond the ‘naqba’ mindset: what a real change in Palestinian attitudes would involve.... by Shlomo Avineri

Briefing 275 – 20 January 2011
Palestinian denial of Jewish history: an obstacle to peace and coexistence

Briefing 272 – 11 December 2010
Recognising Israel as a Jewish state? Fresh rejection by the Palestinian ‘moderates’

Briefing 266 – 29 July 2010
‘Happy Independence Day, Israel’.... from a Palestinian conflict resolution expert    

Briefing 249 – 10 December 2009
The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The ongoing denial of Israel’s legitimacy

Briefing 227 – 25 December 2008
“Moderate Palestinian leaders believe in a two-state solution.....”

Briefing 226 – 8 December 2008
Recognising Israel as a Jewish state?  Mainstream Palestinian leaders refuse to do so

Briefing 39 – January 2003
The Palestinians’ leading cartoonist: Israel should not exist