Thinking Aloud: The New Checkpoint on the Road to Peace?

Mar. 18, 2014 by Darius 

The fact that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are stalled is not news, given that it’s happened so many times before.  What’s different this time is why the talks are stalled.  It’s not about the usual issues of land, refugees, and security.  No.  This time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to impose an entirely new condition: that the Palestinians explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

For Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to do so would effectively mean that he was abandoning Israeli Arabs, who comprise 20% of Israel’s population, to their fates.  Abbas has refused.  And so negotiations are stuck.

President Obama met with Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week, suggesting “risks” and “hard choices” would be needed to get a deal.

Is the US prepared to take the risk that Israel, its major ally in the Middle East, becomes a state that sanctions second-class citizenship status on the basis on religion?  Religious apartheid, if you will.  If Egypt, which has also been a major US ally in the Middle East, declared that it was a Muslim state, diminishing the rights of its Christian minority, I don’t think the US would be quite so broad-minded.  Is the US prepared to make the hard choice of throwing the Palestinians under the bus, again, when negotiations don’t work out because of Israeli demands, as it did in 2000?  [See Peace Puzzle III: ]  Is the US prepared for the consequences of doing so?

For Israel, it is clear that a choice is imminent:  it can continue to be Jewish or democratic, but not necessarily both.  It is equally clear, as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state underscores, that at least at present Israel is opting for the Jewish over the democratic.

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