Serge van Erkelens: Recognizing Israel

By Serge van Erkelens
Special to

No country should officially recognised Israel as a Jewish state, for the same obvious reason that no country has or should recognize France as a state with a particular nature. The same logic applies to Spain, the US, or any other. 

So demanding such a thing from the Palestinians – living under Israeli occupation – is ridiculous, to say the least.

Of course, Israel suddenly might demand from other governments to qualify their recognition of itself as a Jewish state; it could utilize history, to create pressure and to brand anti-Semitic, any country that refuses to comply.

But can it be done? Is it possible? If yes, why hasn’t it been done yet?

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 spoke of a ‘Jewish Homeland’; So did the Conference of San Remo in 1920, in its confirming that declaration. And at the creation of Israel in 1948 it was quite obvious that it was a Jewish state. That does not say anything about the consequences yet, but the new inhabitants – certainly not the Palestinian Arab population – made it clear they wanted to see the state as Jewish. So why hasn’t any foreign country recognised that particular nature yet?

Recognising a state means a full recognition of the sovereignty of that state. It is a declaration promising not to interfere in the internal matters of that state, in any way.

First, it equals a promise to stay out. Basic UN-rules are applied, and the first rule is: non intervention in sovereign countries’ internal affairs; again, stay out.

Second, it is recognition of the self-determination of the nation (population), or simply said: everything that takes place inside that country is the business of its population, and nobody else’s.

Thus, the state is recognised, not the nation. The state functions as a shield for the nation against outsiders. And the state is the only representative of the nation.

Of course every state is bound to the rest of the world by international treaties or agreements, but everything else inside that, is broadly considered to be internal private business.

Can France demand to be recognised as a wine and cheese republic? Holland to be the ultimate windmill kingdom? And what if Holland next year decides to be a dike state, instead? Should the whole world come running up again to acknowledge that change in the way that Holland wishes to characterize itself? What if the US decides to give up it’s structure of states, and adhere to a new formula? Do they need approval or recognition from the rest of the world? Absolutely not. Could foreign countries resist such a change? Of course not. All these things remain internal matters.

More relevant, what if the next Israeli government, for the sake of good relations between Jews and Arabs decides its no longer a good idea to remain Jewish? Should the whole world come running again, to amend their recognition of Israel? No. For the state to be Jewish or not, is an internal Israeli matter. The matter is not Jewish but Israeli. And foreign recognitions do not concern the Jewish (or not) inhabitants, but the state itself. And the nature of that recognition basically is: stay out of it!

So recognising a state as being Jewish would even be an intrusion in internal matters, even if the current government of Israel would ask us to. It simply does not fit in the UN-system of recognitions.

Israel is, of course, blurring definitions on purpose. The practical reason is maybe to create impossible conditions for Palestinians or is a prelude to throwing Arab Israelis out of their country. If that takes place, such matter would have to be handled by the UN-system, for it will create serious regional and international consequences. Apparently Israel wants to shield itself from any criticism, by claiming that maintaining its Jewish identity is an internationally approved matter.

But even if ethnic cleansing is not Israel’s ultimate aim, the recognition is still a powerful tool to resist any criticism regarding the treatment of the non-Jewish minorities. Indeed, Israel is hoping that such exceptionalism will help bypass international standards that are designed to protect inhabitants against serious violations of basic rights.

But nothing will change the fact that coercing Palestinians to recognise the state of Israel as a Jewish state is highly unusual and highly irrational, and doesn’t seem to fulfil any reasonable purpose. Therefore it may be suspected to be just another roadblock to peace, just giving more way to the ongoing annexation of the West Bank.

-Serge van Erkelens is a Netherlands-based independent writer, with juridical background.

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