TEL AVIV – A new push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare Israel a Jewish state came criticism from the country’s Arab minority on Friday with prominent Arabs saying the attempt would only discredit Israel.
Netanyahu said he would make the push for the declaration which has long been under discussion on Thursday. He said that he would want to “legally anchor” at a constitutional level, Israel’s status as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.
“Only a national movement that is not convinced of its righteousness makes demands every other day to recognise its Jewishness, against a historical narrative of another community,” Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, said.
“Our struggle for equality will continue in spite of the exclusion and marginalisation,” said Tibi.
Mohammed Barakeh, the Head of leftist Hadash party, which has both Arab and Jewish members, warned about Israel becoming an “apartheid state”, a callback to recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry.
“Passage of this law will revive the international debate over the issue of Zionism as racism. Arab citizens are not passersby in this country and they are not Netanyahu’s guests,” said Barakeh.
Palestinians have long feared that if Israeli legally becomes a Jewish State, it could have negative consequences for the Arab minority, which makes up about 20 per cent of the population. They also fear that such a declaration would negate the right of return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish State, a demand made by Netanyahu during the recently collapsed U.S.-brokered negotiations between the parties.
“I see it as one of my basic missions as prime minister to fortify the state of Israel as the nation-state of our people,” Netanyahu said, while pledging to protect minorities.
Israeli hard line nationalists want the state to be more clearly defined as a Jewish one to further cement a unique characteristic of the country.
The prime minister would propose a new part of Israel’s uncodified constitution, known as the Basic Law, to address the matter. Israel does not have a constitution, but has several so-called Basic Laws which codify core legislation.
Even within Israel’s Jewish majority, there are some opposed to Netanyahu’s plan, fearing it would strengthen the country’s Jewish character, while weakening its democratic sides. Others also fear it will harm the peace process with the Palestinians. A deadline for an end to the first phase of the talks expired last month.
“Whoever supports the two-state solution supports Palestinian sovereignty and asks the Palestinians to recognise Israeli sovereignty, but not the character of the state,” Zahava Gal-On, Leader of the Dovish Meretz party, was quoted as saying.
Kerry, who had been spearheading the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, has said the sides would need to take a break from talks even as there had been “significant progress in certain areas.”
“It’s time for pause, but it’s also time to be reflective about the ways in which one might be able to find a common ground even out of these difficulties,” Kerry said in Addis Ababa on Thursday.
Kerry was recently chastised by Israeli leaders for warning that if the Israelis and Palestinians did not reach a peace deal and form two states, Israel risked becoming an “apartheid” state.
He later backtracked, saying his choice of words could have been better. (dpa/NAN)