At a press conference in Ramallah this past Wednesday, Dr. Nabil Shaath, Deputy Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, announced that the Palestinians would be unwilling to recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish People.
Shaath, who is a chief Palestinian negotiator at the peace talks, is reported as having said that such recognition would harm the status of Arabs currently living in Israel and conflicted with the “right of return” that Palestinians claim for families who became refugees at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel back in 1948.
Intrinsic to this view are two cardinal precepts in Palestinian thinking: Firstly, that Israel should become “a state of all its citizens” and relinquish its specifically Jewish character; and, secondly, that the families of those who became refugees in 1948 should have the right to return to their homes.
While such demands may just be bargaining chips in the current negotiations, their implementation would, in effect, spell the end of the Jewish State and the Zionist dream of Jewish sovereignty.
Just in the same way as Israel absorbed some 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands, so too will the Palestinian state need to solve its refugee problem within its own borders.
If progress is to be made towards peace, the Palestinian negotiators will have to understand that, just as they demand that the world support their right to statehood, so too must they recognize the right of the Jewish People to their own homeland.
Given the reality of the Middle East, in which countries like Saudi Arabia are governed on the basis of Islamic law and the public practice of other religions is forbidden, Israel can be proud of the fact that, while being a Jewish State, it has granted freedom of religion and full citizenship rights to those of other faiths, including to those Palestinians who live within its borders.