Netanyahu’s Precondition for Peace Negotiations

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Palestinian authorities recognize Israel as a Jewish state before he would enter into peace talks with them.  The statement was made while US presidential envoy George Mitchell was in the region calling for both parties to negotiate a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. 

 

Palestinians have resisted recognizing Israel as a Jewish state because many Arab Muslims live in Israel, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to areas in Israel proper is something that Palestinians seek as a concession, although many believe that the so-called “right of return” will not be granted to them as part of any final peace agreement.  Palestinians do not want fellow Muslims to be treated as second-class citizens and residents.

 

Some Israeli leaders want their country to be recognized as a sectarian state because they believe that Judaism is a fundamental aspect of Israel’s identity.  They also face a demographic issue in that the Arab population of Israel-Palestine is growing much more rapidly than the Jewish population and in a few decades Arabs will outnumber Jews there.  The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state could provide a pretext for the Israeli government to deny citizenship to Palestinians.

 

It is understandable why Netanyahu made his demand.  However, the issue could easily be addressed during negotiations with the Palestinians and need not be resolved beforehand.  Perhaps the prime minister is making acknowledgement a pre-condition because he does not want to pursue a peace agreement at this time.  Many people in Israel and the international community believe that the militant group Hamas, which now controls Gaza, will not abide by any treaty between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and therefore feel that peace talks are pointless at this time.

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