The following was released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the name of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“Eretz Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
The meaning of the Jewish state and its importance
Decades before the founding of the state in 1948, the international community recognized the Land of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish nation.
Palestinian representatives for their part have refused to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. This is not only a matter of semantics; it is, rather, an essential issue of peace making. The core of the conflict remains the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
The Jewish people have always constituted a nation, a people and a civilization, even throughout prolonged separation from their land. Millennia before the emergence of the ‘Westphalian system’, the Jewish people had established an independent polity in the Land of Israel. Both historically and from the perspective of modern Zionism, Jewish identity has been forged by a sense of peoplehood linked by a shared destiny, a land, a religion, a culture and a language.
A true and lasting peace will only be possible if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people alongside the recognition of the Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people. Resolution of the conflict will come via two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security.
The Jewish state and freedom of religion
The term “Jewish state” refers primarily to nationality. Since their emergence in antiquity, the Jewish people have constituted a nation, a people, and a civilization, anchored in basic aspects of their identity, such as Judaism and the Hebrew language. Israel is to the Jewish people what France is to the French people, Ireland is to the Irish and Japan is to the Japanese.
Each nation has the right to define its state in the manner of its choosing. Just as Egypt defines itself as the Arab Republic of Egypt, and Greece as the Hellenic Republic, so too, Israel defines itself as the Jewish State.
The State of Israel is a democratic state which guarantees freedom of religion to all its citizens. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states clearly that “it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” Israel’s democratic system of government, its separation of powers, its free press and its strong protection of civil rights ensure that these ideals are realized in practice. Thus, recognizing the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people does not infringe in any way on the freedom of religion guaranteed to all Israeli citizens.
The Jewish affinity for the Land of Israel has its roots in continuous Jewish presence over the past 3500 years
Archaeological findings and historical records demonstrate that Jews have lived continuously in the Land of Israel for the past 3500 years. When the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the Jewish community in Israel was over a thousand years old. The Romans exiled only part of the Jewish population, and throughout the subsequent millennia there has been an uninterrupted Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.
While the desire to re-establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was intensified by harsh persecution and repeated massacres, it mostly derived from the belief that only in a sovereign Jewish state could the Jewish people express itself completely and independently.
The yearning of the Jewish people for political independence has long been appreciated and recognized by others, well before the emergence of modern Zionism in the late 19th Century. For example, in 1762, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote: “It seems to me we will never come to understand what the Jews are saying until they have a free state, schools and universities in which they will be able to speak freely and discuss matters without danger. Only then will we be able to know what they have to say.”
The Right of the Jewish People to Self-Determination Received International Recognition in Past Centuries
The right of the Jews to self-determination was acknowledged by the international community already in the 18th and 19th centuries. World leaders such as Napoleon, as expressed in his letter to the Jewish people as “The Rightful Heirs of Palestine”, and numerous American presidents, including John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, exemplified this recognition of the ties between the Jewish people and their homeland.
The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine
In 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued by Great Britain and in April 1920 the San Remo conference determined the allocation of the British mandate for Palestine. The mandate was conferred on Britain for the specific purpose of the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people”.
The Declaration was incorporated in August 1920 into the Treaty of Sèvres between the Allied Powers and the Ottoman Empire. On 24 July 1922, the British Mandate was confirmed by the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, thus lending Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people, formal legal recognition and international legitimacy.
British leaders explicitly acknowledged that the mandate was to be an instrument for the establishment of a Jewish state. Lloyd George, British prime minister at the time, underscored that the goal of the mandate was the ultimate establishment of a Jewish state: “It was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunities afforded them by the idea of a national home… then Palestine would thus become a Jewish commonwealth.”
This view was reiterated by other British leaders, such as Winston Churchill, who in February 1920 wrote that “there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State.”
The Peel Commission
In 1937 the Peel Commission, a British Royal Commission of Inquiry, stated in its report that if “establishing a Jewish National Home succeeded and a sufficient number of Jews went to Palestine, the National Home might develop in course of time into a Jewish State.”
The Commission thus recommended the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state joined with Transjordan, claiming that “Partition enables the Jews in the fullest sense to call their National Home their own; for it converts it into a Jewish State.”
The Jewish State is Created
On November 29, 1947, the international community once again recognized the need for the establishment of a Jewish state, when the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 181, recommending the partition of British Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.
Less than six months after the partition resolution, the Jewish state came into being. The two-thousand year old dream of renewing Jewish sovereignty culminated in the timeless words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, as read by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister: “we […], by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”
Notably, it was at one time contemplated to simply name the new country ‘The Jewish State’. As a result, US President Harry Truman prepared a text recognizing the new state with the words “Jewish State”, which were struck through in pen when he was informed that the new state would instead be called Israel.
Thus, the concept of a Jewish state is far older than its name. It is not Israel that was to become a Jewish state, but a Jewish state that was to be called Israel.
The basic paradigm underpinning the Oslo Accords held that both Israel and the Palestinians were prepared to recognize the legitimacy of each other’s national rights and aspirations. Whereas the Zionist leadership had done so already in 1947, through acceptance of the Partition Plan, the 1993 Declaration of Principles was the first time a Palestinian leader had in any way reciprocated. Regrettably, the Palestinian leadership nevertheless continues in its refusal to take the necessary step of recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The issue of recognizing Israel’s national identity has been on the agenda in every round of negotiations between the parties.
The international community should encourage recognition by the Palestinians of the Jewish state, in order to ensure the realization of the vision of two states for two peoples.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)