A good technique when attempting to reach a negotiated consensus is to bring certain offers to the table that will surely be rejected.
In this way the remaining terms appear more reasonable. The Israeli government has learned this rule by heart.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently offered to renew a partial settlement construction freeze, but only if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Now, why would the only self-proclaimed democracy in the Middle East care how it is recognized?
Let’s analyze these terms. Currently, settlements are illegally built in the occupied West Bank (under international law and in some cases under Israeli law as well).
The New York Times published an article on Oct. 13 in which the inflammatory behavior of settlers is described.
The article lists incidents in which Jewish settlers poison Palestinians’ olive trees, steal their fruit and build barbed-wire fences around stolen land.
Israel is offering to partially cease the building of new settlements such as these. This is a small step that is nonetheless welcomed by all.
In return, they are forcing Palestinians to recognize that one religion and one ethnicity reigns supreme in Israel. This may not seem the case from the careful wording of Netanyahu, but one must consider that Israel does not have a constitution protecting rights for all its citizens.
After all, no Orthodox Jew would recognize a secular document as the highest law of the land.
Human rights groups have slammed Israel for its unequal treatment of Arabs and Muslims.
So in exchange for stopping some illegal activities, the Israeli government wants to permanently ensure the discrimination against an entire ethnicity and religion.
This is somewhat akin to Osama bin Laden offering to cease attacks on American soil, but only if the U.S. declares itself a Muslim state.
Is this request even sincere? M.J. Rosenberg notes, “No nation in the world is officially recognized by any other nation as anything in particular. After all, it is not up to outsiders to determine the identity of another country. Demanding that non-Jews determine Israel’s identity is not only insulting, it is the antithesis of Zionism which is all about Jewish self-determination.”
The Palestinians, rightly so, immediately dismissed this offer.
In a lightning turnaround, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that forces new immigrants to swear an oath to Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.
All in all, it was a very smart move by Israel. In most news sources Israel is portrayed as valiantly attempting to save the current round of peace talks, when they are effectively drowning them before they can start in earnest.
It is difficult to see how a government that plays this game so well is truly interested in a comprehensive peace deal. I have personally witnessed settlers attacking Palestinians with guns and setting acres upon acres of olive trees on fire.
The Israeli Defense Forces have no control over the settlers, nor would they exercise it if they did.
Many times they forced Palestinians to stop farming their own land, in order to, as they said, “not stir up trouble with the settlers.” These state policies are coupled with a seemingly genuine attempt at peace.
How much longer can this facade be kept up? Is it just for the government to hijack a centuries-old identity in a quest to solidify an expansionist colonial occupation?
Nelson Mandela declared, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Very soon, Israel must be held accountable to international law. Its actions are not below or above any other nation; it must face international scrutiny and it must no longer be shielded by United States money and policy.
But considering that the United States approves U.N. resolutions against other nations that break the law, we must stop vetoing every resolution that is directed at Israel.
Only this move will finally allow Israel to be recognized as a true nation: accountable and responsible to the highest international laws.