As predicted at the start of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in September—that is, before they collapsed again in October—the issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a thorny one. Prime Minister Netanyahu is not only demanding the inclusion of such recognition in any framework agreement on peace, but now even as a prerequisite for extending a moratorium on settlement construction. However, as Israeli-Palestinian MK Ahmed Tibi argues with regard to Israel’s new “loyalty oath” in an op ed in today’s New York Times, Palestinians understandably see any such recognition as implicitly justifying their dispossession and forced displacement in 1948 as well as confirming a second-class status within Israel itself. Moreover, PA President Mahmud Abbas would have to be just plain stupid to compromise on a final status issue like recognition in exchange for a partial and temporary halt to settlement activity that—as the International Court of Justice (and just about everyone else) has made clear—is illegal to begin with.
That being said, I’ve spent enough time running graduate seminars to enjoy arguing both sides of an issue. Consequently, here’s the puzzle: if Israel ought not to be recognized as a Jewish state because it would legitimize Palestinian dispossession and marginalize its non-Jewish citizens, why then is it OK for the Syrian constitution to describe the country as “Arab” when almost 10% of its population are Kurdish, Armenian, or Turkish?
As points of comparison, Algeria (which has a substantial Berber minority) chooses not to emphasize any Arabness in its constitution, and instead uses the term Algerian. The Moroccan constitution only mentions that the country is part of the “Arab Maghreb.” The current Iraqi constitution speaks of all of its major ethnicities. Sudan (hardly a poster-child of inter-ethnic harmony) mentions Arabic as its official language in its constitution, but beyond that does not address the issue.