Israel’s Absurd Identity

By Joharah Baker

While all may be in consensus that the Annapolis peace conference held last November went belly up, Israel still prides itself on one achievement – insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. “I do not intend to compromise, in any way over the issue of the Jewish state,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on November 11. “This will be our condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state.”

Unsurprisingly, no groundbreaking solutions came out of that conference. Since then, the leaders have been dawdling back and forth between empty meetings and broken promises, casting plenty of blame on each other for the obvious failure of any real progress in the peace process.

Still, Olmert, unlike his predecessors, set yet another obstacle in the way of any real conciliation between Israel and its neighbors with his impossible condition for “peace”. Recognizing the Jewish nature of Israel is basically demanding that the Palestinians – being non-Jewish – accept their second rate status in any dealings with Israel. This, no doubt, is pretty hard to swallow, even for the most malleable of Palestinian negotiators.

In reality, however, Israel has insisted on this premise from day one. In fact, the entire state was established on this very foundation. While Zionism long espoused the need for a homeland for the Jews, this idea was only consolidated after the atrocities of World War I and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which called for a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”

This concept was further given credence in the international arena when, on November 29, 1947 the United Nations passed Resolution 181 calling for the partition of Palestine, and the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. “This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.”

So, when Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, the seeds had already been planted for the acceptance of Israel as the logical and only option for the Jewish people.

Still, the fact that the Zionist movement was able to pull off the biggest hoax in history, convincing the world that Israel was the rightful and God-given homeland for the Jewish people and could therefore delegate any of its less fortunate non-Jewish residents to second-class citizens, is still as absurd today as it was 60 years ago. And this is why the Palestinian leadership, no matter how much it may compromise in its negotiating positions with Israel, cannot stoop as low as handing Israel this inherently racist condition for peace on the proverbial silver platter.

The only logical explanation as to why Olmert decided to make such a demand is to further impede any real progress in negotiations given the obvious fact that the Palestinians would surely not willingly offer their support. And given that the world, the United Nations, the United States and pretty much every else, has accepted the Jewishness of Israel as one of life’s realities, this ultimately throws the ball into the Palestinians’ court once again.

However, it is high time the world stops taking Israel’s flagrant racism in its dealings with the Palestinians as a fact of life. Israel has done a formidable job in burdening the world’s conscience with guilt over the horrible fate of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. While the Holocaust was undoubtedly one of history’s most abominable atrocities for the Jews and five million other non-Jews, it has become Israel’s most winning card in forcing the world to accept for itself what would seem absolutely absurd for anyone else.

This recognition is, for example, comparable to the Palestinians insisting that Israel recognize their future state as Muslim, or Italy declaring that it is a state for Catholics. The fact that the Jews consider themselves a nation unlike other major religions does not give it the right to claim a country – inhabited by Jews as well as Muslims and Christians – as the homeland for only one.

Furthermore, 60 years of applying this “Jewishness” to their state has granted Israel the opportunity to not only abuse the human, civil and political rights of the Palestinians under their occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, but it has allowed for one–fifth of its own population to be treated as second and third class citizens in their own country. The Palestinians fortunate enough to have retained their homes during the catastrophe of 1948 when 800,000 of their fellow Palestinians were forced to flee have since been unfortunate enough to live as citizens of a state that openly declares they are not the citizens the country was created to serve.

Hence, what is most absurd is the fact that Israel proclaims itself to be “democratic.” Yes, for Israeli Jews, the state of Israel is probably the epitome of democracy. Israeli Jews have the right to return to Israel at any time from anywhere and are given immediate citizenship solely on the basis of their religion, while Palestinians who have lived, harvested and nurtured this land for several generations are banned from returning, again solely on the basis of their identity. This is not to mention the 40-plus year military occupation Israel has maintained over 22 percent of historical Palestine, where Palestinians are persecuted and oppressed on a daily basis. Palestinians under Israeli rule hardly identify their occupiers as benevolent democrats.

So, while it is clear why the United States – Israel’s unabashed and strongest ally – would jump on the “Israel as a Jewish state” bandwagon, it is equally unthinkable for the Palestinians to assume the same role. The Palestinian leadership long ago accepted the right of Israel to exist, specifically on November 15, 1988, which was really a quantum leap in terms of compromising on rights the Palestinians consider sacred. Until today, there are Palestinian individuals and political factions that reject this recognition on principle.

However, recognizing the state of Israel is not equivalent to recognizing the state as a Jewish homeland and thus cannot be paralleled to Israel’s recognition of a future Palestinian state. In reality, Israel is fully practicing this self-proclaimed right but for the Palestinians to give it their seal of approval would be to willingly settle for a lower rung in any final settlement, not only for the future Palestinian state but for their fellow Palestinians inside the Green Line, who continuously fight discrimination in job opportunities, housing and politics because they are Arab Palestinian.

Olmert may be using his “Jewish state” card as a means of further stalling the peace process, well knowing how the Palestinians would – and did – react. Nevertheless, this is one boundary our leadership cannot cross, because by doing so, it would validate every racist premise with which Israel has oppressed us over the course of six decades.

– Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Source: MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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