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Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab

Posted: October 14, 2010 01:41 AM

Without any reason, the Israeli government has created a totally artificial problem for all future persons wishing to get citizenship: They will have to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Once again the Israelis are trying to push their internal problems and their hesitation to pay the needed price for peace onto others.

A cartoon in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth captured the strangeness of the latest Israeli obstacle to the peace process. The cartoon reprinted on a Palestinian web site shows secular Israeli intellectuals rejecting the idea of the Jewishness of Israel and at the same time depicts Orthodox Jewish leaders rejecting the same idea. In the cartoon, right-wing Israeli leader Avigdor Leiberman tries to convince a veiled Palestinian woman to make the pledge in return for giving her citizenship and she accepts.

The cartoon reflects the fact that 63 years after its creation, Israel still does not have a constitution guaranteeing the rights of its citizens, especially the minorities.

Secular Israelis clearly prefer a constitution or a basic law to a naturalisation pledge that has no legal use. In fact, the opposition Kadima Party is planning to push for a law that will consider Israel's declaration of independence as the basic law, thus having the legal power of the constitution. Of course this will put the government in a bind. It will be hard to oppose the idea, but at the same time, approving such a law would not only preempt the current effort to turn the government decision into law, it will also cause a major rift among Jewish religious parties.

Some might be surprised to hear that religious Jews are against declaring Israel a Jewish state. The reason is simple, however. For decades, Israelis have been embroiled in endless arguments regarding the simple question of "who is a Jew". The Orthodox feel that their version of Judaism is legitimate, whereas the majority of diaspora Jews (especially those in the US) are reform or conservative. Therefore, it is clear that the entire Jewishness of Israel is a monkey wrench aimed to please Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party and, at the same time, divert attention from the real pressure that Israel is under from the entire world, including the US, to continue suspending settlement activities while direct talks are proceeding.

Palestinians have many reasons to reject the outrageous and totally illogical demand made by the Israeli prime minister that they recognise the Jewishness of Israel in return for the Israelis suspending their illegal settlement activities for a mere two months.

The conflict is national, focusing on the occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, and the national right of Palestinians to establish their national (not ethnic) state. By accepting the ethno-religious nature of Israel, the entire reference point for solving the conflict is put in total disarray. No longer would international law or treaties be the legal basis for finding solutions.

If Judaism is the reference point, then Israel's demands for ownership of land takes on a totally new dimension. The occupied West Bank will become Judea and Samaria, the claimed ancestral lands of the Jews. Jewish claims might even go to locations in Lebanon and Jordan, if the Bible becomes a real estate deed. And once you introduce religion into the conflict, it will certainly not be restricted to Jews. Muslims, and especially radical ones, have similar ideas. Political Islam considers the entire historical Palestine to be a Muslim waqf (endowment) that no one is allowed to negotiate.

Of course in immediate danger from the racist attempts regarding a direct introduction of Judaism in the governance of Israel is the country's Palestinian population. Palestinian citizens of Israel today amount to 20 percent of the population.

Lieberman has made it clear that his party's goal is to transfer the majority of non-Jewish population out of the country. Palestinian Arabs who have lived on their land for centuries will be ethnically cleansed if he gets his way.

Lieberman's ideas are no longer on the fringe of Israeli policy. He made them public in Israel and from the UN rostrum, and by getting the current Israeli government to vote for the nationality pledge, he has shown that he can turn these racist laws into policy.

The issue of Israel's Jewish nature is also meant to close the door to the legitimate Palestinian demands for a fair solution to the refugee problem, in accordance with UN resolutions.
The Palestinian leadership has made it clear that it is not interested in dealing with the Israeli request that Palestinians recognise the Jewishness of the state of Israel. Palestinian officials insist that a mutual recognition agreement was signed in 1993 by the PLO and Israel, and that the only other agreements, made with Jordan and Egypt, are with the state of Israel, without any reference to a particular religion or race. Israelis can call their state whatever they wish, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly, but for the Palestinians the issue is a nonstarter.

 

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