Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Obama’s Telling Silence

The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State – reiterated last month by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Huge majorities of Palestinians refuse to accept “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people,” instead keeping alive the dream of demographically overrunning Israel and restoring the land to some kind of pre-1948 utopia with bucolic post-Ottoman architecture and no running water. The erstwhile Palestinian negotiating position – “recognize Israel, but not as a Jewish State, in exchange for maximum territorial concessions” – very deliberately preserves the ideological basis for future war against the Jewish State. That’s why recognition of Israel’s Jewish character has been a central Israeli demand since at least the Olmert government.

The French long ago came around to Israel’s position on recognition, with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe establishing it in a speech and then circulating the text for emphasis. President Obama, in his AIPAC speech today, pointedly did not. From the prepared text:

That’s why – just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace – we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.

The omission wasn’t an accident. The Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel’s Jewish character came up last time Prime Minister Netanyahu was in town as well. And if I heard Obama correctly, the line was even more awkward as delivered. It came out something like: “… must recognize Israel [clumsy, halting full stop].” I may be misremembering though, simply because it sounded so stilted to have the usual phrase – “recognize Israel, as a Jewish State” – just hanging there, half-delivered.

This issue matters. If it was a minor rhetorical matter – as Palestinian apologists blandly insist – then the Palestinians would accept the Israeli position and reap the subsequent propaganda windfall. Instead, they’ve outright ruled out recognizing Israel as a Jewish State again and again. The terms under which they want peace are ones that leave available the central pretext for war.

Just to be clear: the president certainly recognizes Israel as a Jewish State. He just doesn’t seem to think the Palestinians should have to. That’s a recipe for continued distrust between America and the Jewish State – the Israelis will find themselves unable to rely on American backing on even the most basic issues – which in turn will ensure that the peace process remains moribund.