Former Israeli U.N. Amb: Demand That Palestinians Recognize Israel As A Jewish State Is ‘Superfluous’

Gabriela Shalev

Israel should drop its requirements for Palestinian negotiators to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, says former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Gabriela Shalev. Speaking before Congress last May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and to say ‘I will accept a Jewish state,” adding, “Those six words will convince Israel that they have a true partner for peace.”

Shalev, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, offered harsh advice to Netanyahu, challenging his claims that he has no “preconditions” for talks with the Palestinians, saying:

Israel could show by gestures that when Netanyahu talks about negotiations without preconditions, there really are no preconditions; that we are not only willing to speak about painful concessions, but show that we are willing to do it by not going on with building settlements; and by not putting new things on the table, like the requirement that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of Jewish people, which to my mind is superfluous. Brazil didn’t recognize us as that. Egypt didn’t.

Her criticism of Netanyahu’s negotiating position comes as Israeli diplomats prepare for an anticipated September push by Palestinians to gain U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood. Shalev warns that a Palestinian bid for statehood will occur as popular support for Israel reaches new lows, adding:

It’s low and will move even lower after September. I can’t measure it, but I feel it was never as bad. I remember when we were the underdogs and the world embraced us. Even during the [2005 Gaza Strip] disengagement, the world loved us. Now I have the feeling that we are seen more like South Africa once was.

As American Task Force on Palestine senior research fellow Hussein Ibish noted, the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state “was never raised” in previous peace talks and agreements and only “following his re-election in 2009, Netanyahu has increasingly made this demand a mainstay.” Ibish adds that the demand is “highly unusual”:

The idea that a state — or in this case a potential state — should participate in defining the national character of another is highly unusual, if not unique, in international relations. The Palestinian position, stated many times by President Mahmoud Abbas, is that the PLO recognizes Israel, and that Israel is free to define itself however it chooses.

While Shalev expresses her desire for Israel to take a more balanced negotiating position before September, she admits that a breakthrough in negotiations is unlikely. After the U.N. showdown in September, she predicts “we will see more hostility and much less open dialogue.”