Any prospect of creating a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan took another nosedive this past week with an extraordinary outburst by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak saying he could not accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish State.
In an interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on 10 July President Mubarak said Israel’s request for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state is unacceptable.
“Don’t you have Arab citizens in Israel?” Mubarak asks. “You want to turn Israel into a Jewish state only? That is very bad. I’m telling you. It’s a serious mistake which will harm you. A Jewish state will become the target of all terrorists. An open state, on the other hand, is a different matter. Look at us in Egypt: We have Muslims, Christians, Copts and Jews,”
President Mubarak was being blatantly misleading in suggesting that the term “Jewish State” meant a state where only Jews and no one else can reside. 20% of Israel’s 7 million population is Muslim Arab and there are over 100000 Christian Arabs living in Israel. Any suggestion that either group will lose its citizenship is nonsensical.
What the President conveniently forgot to mention was that 90% of Egypt’s 80 million population is Muslim Arab, that only 9% is Coptic Christian which group is massively discriminated against and that there are no more than 500 Jews living in Egypt.
Like so many issues in the Middle East words - and the meaning to be ascribed to them - are very important. None is more important at the present time than Israel itself defining what the words “Jewish State” means.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made it clear on 14 June that any negotiations with the Palestinian Authority would fail unless the Authority was prepared to recognize Israel as the Jewish State when he stated unequivocally:
“As we look toward the horizon, we must be firmly connected to reality, to the truth. And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.
The Palestinian leadership must arise and say: “Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace.” I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be.
Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
US President Barack Obama had welcomed Mr Netanyahu’s speech, calling it an important step forward. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs affirmed the following day that :
“The president is committed to two states, a Jewish State of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples,”
On 12 July Prime Minister Netanyahu again reiterated his position at a ceremony in Jerusalem commemorating 105 years since the death of Theodor Herzl:
“The key to peace lies in explicit and unequivocal recognition of Israel as the Jewish state on the part of the Palestinians.”
The term “Jewish State” should be defined by Israel so that there is no doubt as to its meaning by anyone choosing to use those words.
No better definition exists than that given by David Ben Gurion to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine at Lake Success New York on the 7 July 1947:
“What is the meaning of a Jewish State? As I told you before, a Jewish State does not mean one has to be a Jew. It means merely a State-where the Jews are in the majority, otherwise all the citizens have the same status. If the State were called by the name “Palestine,” - I said if - then all would be Palestinian citizens If the State would be given, another name - I think it would be given another name - because Palestine is neither a Jewish nor an Arab name. As far as the Arabs are concerned, and we have the evidence of the Arab historian, Hitti, that there was no such a thing as “Palestine” at all: Palestine is not an Arab name. Palestine is also not a Jewish name. When the Greeks were our enemies, in order not to annoy the Jews, they gave different names to the streets. So, maybe the name of Palestine will be changed. But whatever the name of the country, every citizen of the country will be a citizen. This is what we mean. This is what we have to mean. We cannot conceive that in a State where we are not in a minority, where we have the main responsibilities as the majority of the country, there should be the slightest discrimination between a Jew and a non-Jew.”
Whilst Ben Gurion’s utopian ideal has not yet been fully realised in relation to the “slightest discrimination between a Jew and a non-Jew” his vision is steadily being advanced in the face of the constant draining of Israel’s financial resources spent on armaments to fight innumerable wars and to ensure it remains in a state of preparedness to defend all its citizens - both Jews and Arabs- in the face of refusal by all 21 members of the Arab League to recognize Israel as the Jewish State.
Many members of the Arab League have abbreviated their official State names. Egypt is officially designated as “The Arab Republic of Egypt”, Syria as “The Syrian Arab Republic”, Jordan as “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” and Libya as “The Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”
Israel’s Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 merely proclaimed :
“the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called ISRAEL”
Perhaps it is time for Israel to formally adopt Ben Gurion’s definition, to officially designate itself as “The Jewish State of Israel” and to get the two Arab countries with whom it has signed peace treaties - Egypt and Jordan - to acknowledge that fact.
As we commemorate Neil Armstrong’s setting foot on the moon on 20 July 1969 we might well use his first words on that momentous occasion to describe what the official adoption of such a name change by Israel might possibly herald:
“That’s one small step for man: one giant leap for mankind”