HAS NETANYAHU DROPPED DEMAND THAT ISRAEL BE A JEWISH STATE?

BY AKIVA ELDAR

Since the day he returned to the prime minister’s bureau, Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t missed an opportunity to reiterate the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This problematic condition has acquired a place of honor in the government’s policy and its message to the Israeli and international media. And now, last Sunday, the phrase “the Jewish people” was absent from an important statement Prime Minister Netanyahu made to government ministers and the microphones.

At the start of the weekly government meeting, at which the proposal to extend the aid given to the evacuees from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria in the West Bank was discussed, Netanyahu promised that his government would not repeat the mistake of that unilateral withdrawal.

Instead, he said, the government would strive to arrive at bilateral agreements that will include two basic elements that were missing in the case of the evacuation of Gaza. In second place: “Security arrangements, the honoring and enforcement of which will be ensured.” And in first place: “The genuine recognition of the state of Israel.” And thereafter: “If there is a turn towards peace by the more moderate Palestinians, we will insist on the following components: Recognition and genuine demilitarization will find expression in, and be integral parts of, the peace arrangements.”

“Genuine recognition of the state of Israel?” Check. “Recognition and genuine demilitarization?” Check. “The state of the Jewish people?” Nope. This is also documented in the spokesman’s statement on the prime minister’s bureau Web site.

Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s media advisor, says that no special significance should be attributed to the fact that “the Jewish people” is absent from the prime minister’s remarks. The boss is continuing to insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. His heart filled with sorrow when it it was brought to his attention that the matter was missing from his remarks at the government meeting.

However, “the Jewish people” may not have simply slipped the prime minister’s mind for no reason. Foreign diplomats have reported to their capitals that people in the prime minister’s bureau had phoned some of their colleagues to draw their attention to the striking absence from the statement.

Leaders in those capitals, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, were able to note that Netanyahu had removed one of the major stumbling blocks in the path to negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian track.

And just when Netanyahu relaxed his position (or did he?) in the matter of the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Arab Knesset members rose up against Israel’s definition of itself as a Jewish state. In interviews to the Arab press, they condemned Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who told Haaretz Friday that Israel’s definition is its own business and that there is no reason to demand this from the Palestinians.

It is not enough for the Knesset members that their brethren in the territories not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They are also demanding of them that they require Israel to relinquish its right to define itself as a Jewish state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already said something vague in that direction. This is all that Netanyahu needs in order to get President Obama off his back once and for all.

See Related: ISRAEL-MIDEAST

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