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Israel’s ‘demands’

Jan 15,2014 - Last updated at Jan 15,2014

The Jordan Times ran, on December 30, 2013, an article by my learned with the above title. In it, the author summarised the lethal consequences of a possible acceptance by the Palestinians of the Israeli demand to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”.

In his view, that would “constitute explicit Palestinian acquiescence in permanent second-class status for Palestinian citizens of Israel and in the liquidation of the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees, as well as implicit Palestinian acceptance of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was morally justified…”.

There are more reasons to add, yet I cannot but agree with such sober analysis.

I wonder, however, whether the US government can, itself, recognise Israel as the “state of Jewish people”?

If yes, can Secretary of State John Kerry explain why president Henry Truman crossed out his own words “Jewish state”, writing, instead “the State of Israel”? 

That was reflected in a document dated May 14, 1948, in which the US government recognised the “provisional government” of Israel.

At the UN debate on the partitioning of Palestine, some US diplomats were hesitant to accept voting on “Jewish” state, on the basis that such voting would violate the first amendment of the constitution.

Can the US government itself, then, recognise Israel as the “State of Jewish people” against the clear text of the First Amendment to the US Constitution?

That amendment reads, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”.

When tsarist Russia used to refuse granting entry visa to American Jews, the US, in a communication dated June 25, 1895, quoted the first amendment and added: “Thus, you see, my government is prohibited in the most positive manner possible by the very law of its existence from even attempting to put any form of limitation up on any of its citizens by reason of his religious belief.”

Can the US administration, therefore, force such a religious definition on the Palestinians when it is constitutionally prevented from doing it on his own people.

In an official document released by the State Department on April 20, 1964, it addressed the American Council of Judaism, the first anti-Zionist Jewish forum in America.

In that letter, it “recognises the state of Israel as a sovereign state and citizenship of the State of Israel... . It does not recognise a legal political relationship based upon the religious identification of American citizens... .  Accordingly, it should be clear that the Department of State does not regard the ‘Jewish people’ concept as a concept of international law”.

It is clear that Kerry’s drive to pressure the Palestinians to recognise Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” runs against his country’s constitution, jurisprudence and diplomatic history.

What is, then, the interest of the US in such a drive?

Kerry must be aware of the fact that Israel does not have yet a written constitution. One of the major reasons is the fact that there is no unanimous agreement among Israelis on “who is a Jew”.

The definition of a Jew is still a thorny issue in the circles of Israeli scholars and theologians.

The Zionist definition is radically different from the Halakha [religious law] definition. The Daniel Case, as expounded by the Israeli supreme court, is still hanging over the heads of Israeli intelligentsia and legislatures.

If there is no agreement among Israelis, in particular, and Jews, in general, on who a Jew is, how does Kerry expect the Palestinians to address this issue?

Shall the Palestinians recognise Israel as a “state of the Jewish people” as defined by the supreme court of Israel [the Zionist definition] or as defined by the religious law?

And if latter, is it according to the Orthodox, Conservative or Reform school?

Finally, a Palestinian can legitimately inquire if Kerry can have Israel undertake and declare that it will not indulge in a new “cleansing operation” if the Palestinian leadership recognise Israel as the “state of Jewish people”.

Can the US government sanction such an undertaking?

If Palestinians are to learn from Kerry the wisdom of recognising Israel as the “state of the Jewish people”, they must be guided by the rules of the superpower whose constitution is still a model of freedom and equality.

The writer, a Jordanian lawyer, is an international law expert. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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