Recognizing A Jewish State: Obama In Perspective

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for returning to talks. President Obama wasted little time in dismissing that demand.

The demand is absurd on its face. No one demands that a country be recognized as anything but a sovereign nation by anyone else. The Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel as a sovereign nation, and that is enough. Netanyahu 610x1surely realizes this. The demand is simply an attempt to thwart negotiations and score a few populist brownie points at the same time.

Of course most Israeli Jews cherish the state’s Jewish identity, and that trait is of possibly even greater importance to the state’s Diaspora supporters. But as far as affirmation from others, well…actually, Abba Eban put it best: “Nobody does Israel any service by proclaiming its ‘right to exist.’ Israel’s right to exist, like that of the United States, Saudi Arabia and 152 other states, is axiomatic and unreserved. Israel’s legitimacy is not suspended in midair awaiting acknowledgement….There is certainly no other state, big or small, young or old, that would consider mere recognition of its ‘right to exist’ a favor, or a negotiable concession.”

This isn’t the first time this ridiculous issue has come up. A friend and colleague wrote a very good article about this question when it arose before the Annapolis conference, raised by Tzipi Livni. The Bush Administration rejected the idea back then as well, albeit somewhat more quietly.

So, we shouldn’t get too excited about Obama’s stance on this point. If Bush can do it, so can he.

But there are more important indications right now. Obama is pushing forward legislation which would allow the administration to deal with a Palestinian unity government. MJ Rosenberg reported on this in his blog, citing this article in Congressional Quarterly.

This is really an obvious solution to the dilemma Hamas presents. It is simply not realistic to believe any kind of real agreement can be reached, much less be sustained, without Hamas’ involvement. But dealing with a government that includes Hamas in any way is currently prohibited. The solution has always been demand that the PA continue to comply with the Quartet conditions, rather than any party that might be part of it. No different from Israel being bound by its agreements whether parties in the government oppose them or not.

Obama seems to realize that Hamas is a reality that must be dealt with and that it is not going away. He’s working to find a way to accommodate that reality. That, folks, is the sort of realistic approach that we need, and it’s where the real benefit of an Obama presidency sits. It will be most interesting to see whether this is a fight AIPAC is prepared to engage in. Their response is going to tell us a lot about how the political tide is flowing.

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