Kerry: It’s ‘A Mistake’ To Push ‘Jewish State’ Demand As Condition For Peace


Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that it’s a “mistake” to continue raising the issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, saying that previous acknowledgements already existed, but “that’s a conversation that will continue.”

Since taking office in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has elevated the issue into a core Israeli demand. In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference earlier this month, he highlighted the issue. “In recognizing the Jewish state,” he said, directing his comments to Palestinian leaders, “you would finally make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict. So recognize the Jewish state, no excuses, no delays. It is time.”

But Kerry suggested in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this week that it was a mistake to place so much emphasis on the issue. “’Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in resolution 181 where there are more than 30 mentions of ‘Jewish state’,” he said. “In addition, [the late] chairman [Yasser] Arafat, in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state.”

“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said. Watch the clip of his remarks:

“I think he reflects a certain amount of frustration and annoyance more than anything else which is symptomatic of the fact that [the ongoing peace process] is running into all kinds of troubles,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, when asked about Kerry’s comments.

Noting that “there’s great division in Israel on this issue,” Miller said he believes the Israeli Prime Minister insists on the condition for two reasons, first, because “it allows him to put his personal stamp on this process.” And second, he said, “If in fact, Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, then it cannot be anything else. In short, it can’t be a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Thursday that according to two new polls, “the Israeli public appears to consider peace and normalization with the Arab world as a whole as vastly more important” than the condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Kerry has been attacked both here in the United States, and in Israel, for his vigorous pursuit of bringing the two sides to the table to reslove the decades-long conflict, and for his warnings about what will happen if there is no resolution. Now, an anonymous “political source” criticized Kerry for his comments on Thursday, saying it’s “easier for the Americans to pressure Israel to give up on the demand for recognition of a Jewish state than to deal with the Palestinians.”

Looking at past polling on the question among Palestinians, CAP expert Matt Duss recently noted on this website that “Palestinian views on this question indicate that the issue is not an insurmountable one.”