THE BLOG

The Goat and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations

03/17/2014 07:17 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2014

On its face, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's demand that as part of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, the Palestinians declare that they recognize Israel as a Jewish State makes sense. Netanyahu has said that the PLO's public recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a "minimal requirement for peace," and considers the issue fundamental to the conflict. That's a reasonable demand, say Israeli spokesmen; Israel needs the declaration to re-establish Israel's status as the only homeland for the Jewish people. Such a declaration by the Palestinians would put a final lid on their demand for a "right of return" for the descendants of Palestinians who lived in areas that now lie within Israel. However, thus far, the Palestinians refuse to make such a declaration, and the negotiations are going nowhere, with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.

Secretary of State John Kerry sided last week with the Palestinians when he told the House Foreign Relations Committee, regarding Netanyahu's demand, "I think it's a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state, and peace, and we've obviously made that clear."

Netanyahu is the first Israeli Prime Minister to insist upon a Palestinian declaration recognizing Israel as a Jewish State. Given that his popular voter base as well as his coalition government comes mostly from the right, which opposes yielding any part of the Biblical territories to the Palestinians, many interpret Netanyahu's position as an intentional and calculated effort to derail the peace negotiations, and then blame the Palestinians for being stubborn.

The legal basis for the ending of the British Mandate of Palestine was created when the UN, in a historic decision on October 29, 1947, declared that there would be two independent States in the area to be vacated by the British, a Jewish State and an Arab State. Under international law, and with the subsequent recognition of Israel by most countries of the world (except for the Arab and some Muslim countries), there is no rational or legal basis to demand from the Palestinians recognition of Israel as a "Jewish State." Israel has not requested a similar declaration from any other country, not even from its neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, when they signed peace agreements with Israel. In fact, the Palestinians, who in 1993 entered with Israel into a series of agreements commonly known as the Oslo Accords, have already recognized Israel as a sovereign state.

The act of self-determination is exactly what it says. The people forming a State declare their right of self-determination. That's what the Americans did in their Declaration of Independence. They did not seek to have the English Crown concede or recognize their country. Israel did the same in its May 15, 1948, Declaration of Independence "...by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the united nations general assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel."

There's an old Jewish tale about a woman living in one room with her husband and their seven children. She complained to her Rabbi that there was no room to move in the single room. "Bring your goat into the room to live with you," advised the Rabbi. "But, Rabbi," she said, "It is already impossible to move around the room; therefore it will be worse if we bring in the goat." The Rabbi insisted that she comply. A few days later the woman returned to the Rabbi. She said that she had brought in the goat, and the family's life was unbearable. "Now," advised the Rabbi, "Take the goat out from the room and back to her yard." The woman returned later to thank the Rabbi, "Now our room is all of a sudden spacious with the goat gone..."
Is Netanyahu's demand tantamount to bringing in the goat to make the negotiations impossible, only subsequently to let out the goat - the recognition demand -- so that all other obstacles would be minimized? Many in Israel and in other countries, including the US, hope that it could be the case.

Is Netanyahu's demand a goat that could be rejected later, or will it form a permanent "take it or leave it" demand? Will Israel risk a kick from the goat -- the Palestinians resorting to the UN to force Israel out of what they perceive -- with growing world support -- as their land?