States Define Their Own Identities

Turku Cathedral, Finland

I was sort of looking forward to not writing about this anymore, but insofar as Michael Oren has an NYT op-ed demanding that Palestinians specifically recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” I may as well say something.

I really think the beginning of wisdom on this and any other point is simply to note that any government that has any sense of urgency about achieving a diplomatic breakthrough on any topic just doesn’t put preconditions like this forward. The point, from an Israeli point of view, of a comprehensive final status agreement would be to secure internationally recognized borders for a sovereign state of Israel. Such a state would, like Finland or Morocco or anyplace else, determine its own policies with regard to language, migration, religion, and citizenship. I don’t believe anyone has ever recognized Finland as a “Finnish state” but the schools teach Finnish as the primary language of instruction except to members of the officially recognized Sami and Swedish minorities, people of Finnish ancestry are given preference in immigration, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland gets state support, etc. And Finland has from time to time revisited various aspects of this and is free to do so again in the future.

The point is that bringing up this sort of demand to a foreign audience is the sort of thing you do when you’re not really interested in having talks move forward but are looking to avoid the blame for breaking them off. People looking to make a deal work talk principles rather than positions. Bibi says “I want security self-determination for the Jewish people” and Abbas says “I want justice for Palestinian refugees and their descendants” and then we talk about how to do that. But if not you can always dream up an infinite number of hoops to make people jump through—who will recognize the blue hen as the state bird of Delaware?—as a reason not to sit down.