Is the “Jewish State” Another Obstacle to the Peace Process?

Deal W. Hudson
May 21, 2009

In Monday’s meeting at the White House, President Barack Obama strongly urged Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reopen the peace process toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Obama also told Netanyahu, with surprising bluntness, “Settlements have to be stopped.”

The response from Netanyahu was ambiguous. At first, he said he would pursue the peace process “immediately,” but speaking to journalists later, emphasized he had not endorsed an independent Palestinian state. He added that a prerequisite for any agreement was the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish state.”

Though some scoff at it, there is no question that Palestine has officially recognized Israel’s right to exist since 1988, and which was reiterated in 1993. What has now been added to Israel’s demand is the description of the nation as a “Jewish state.” The prime minister is not making this a pre-condition for negotiation but for reaching a final agreement.

The Israeli demand for its recognition as a “Jewish state” was first set forth by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the eve of the Annapolis conference hosted by the U. S. in 1997. Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, immediately rejected the demand saying it would very likely disallow the return of Palestinian refugees to homes and villages in the case of an agreement. Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas has recently repeated the objection.

The question inevitably arises, why does Israel want the Palestinians to affirm officially what everyone already knows? Isn’t this merely a dangerous semantic tango that creates yet another obstacle to a peace process that has long seemed doomed to failure?

Every civilized country in the world sees Israel as it defines itself. And Palestinians recognize Israel, but they have trouble officially recognizing its character as “Jewish” because they fear the immediate practical impact on refugees, borders, and their already tenuous identity.

Palestinian refugees now number over four million, and they claim a right of return to homes in what is Israel proper. The Palestinians have indicated their willingness to compromise on the “right of return,” as evidenced by the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for a “just and agreed” resolution of the refugee problem with Israel. But recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” will be seen by Palestinians as pre-determining that outcome without getting anything in exchange.

Israel has never defined its borders. In fact, it continually expands them, through the massive growth of settlements on Palestinian land and Jewish-only roads. Palestinians reasonably fear that by recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” without getting anything in return, they are tacitly legitimizing Israel’s continued settlement of the West Bank.

The population of Israel, including those in the occupied territories, is 50% Palestinian. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state for Palestinians living in the occupied territory appears to legitimize what they consider their third-class citizenship in what is their homeland too (this includes Palestinian citizens of Israel).

Since Palestinians entered the Oslo peace process with Israel in 1993, they haven’t seen anything in return, except for a tripling in Israeli settlers, construction of modern Israeli-only highways, a 40% drop in Palestinian GDP, and draconian restrictions on movement. An entire generation of Palestinian children in the West Bank has never been to the sea, even though many can see it from their homes.

Israel needs peace now more than ever. Rather than focusing on the semantics of a very difficult phrase, Israel – along with the Palestinians and the international community – needs to focus on bringing a stable and just solution to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Now is not the time to create more obstacles to the peace process. If Israel negotiates a genuine peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors, the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians may finally look forward to hoping, not more war and hatred.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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