This condition has triggered a lot of commentary and confusion (for another example of confusion on this subject see Masters of Conventional Wisdom featuring Fareed Zakaria). Its importance has been heightened by recent events. Initially, Kerry included this in the US set of conditions for the peace framework it was presenting to both sides. However, in recent Senate testimony, Secretary Kerry indicated that this condition was no longer necessary since the Palestinians had "implicitly" agreed to it since the original United Nations resolution dissolving the British Mandate in 1947 declared Israel to be a Jewish state.
The request did not originate with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, having been insisted upon by all Israel governments, regardless of party, over the past decade. It arose from the discussions leading to the Palestinian refusal of a state when they rejected the Camp David accords in 2000 and instead launched the bloody Second Intifada. Prior to then, Israelis had been focused on the distinction between those who rejected the very existence of Israel, such as Hamas, and those who seemed to, at least on occasion, accept a two state solution. But during the Camp David meetings and their aftermath, Israelis (including President Clinton to his surprise) heard Yassir Arafat claim that there never was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem and there was growing rhetoric revealing that many of those Palestinians who seemed to be accepting of a two state solution meant it only as a temporary solution and that what they were really referring to was the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israel to which millions of Palestinian refugees could return ultimately transforming it demographically into a second Palestinian state which, THC supposes, would emulate all of the traditions of religious and ethnic tolerance, democracy, free expression and peace of Israel's neighbors - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The disillusionment this caused among Israeli peace activists at the time is chronicled in an anecdote from Yaacov Lozowick's 2003 book Right To Exist. THC has referenced Lozowick before (see the last part of the post Jerusalem: The Biography) and his mostly inactive blog remains an unmatched source for thoughtful pieces on this subject. Lozowick had been on the Left in Israel, and an active participant in Peace Now, the large movement in the 1990s that strongly supported the Oslo peace process. The second intifada which began in 2000 led to a change in his views and he eventually, to his own surprise, ended up voting for Ariel Sharon, a transformation he discusses in Right To Exist. Here's what he reported:
All the Arabic readers I have asked tell me unanimously that while some Palestinians grudgingly accept that Israel may be here to stay, none of them acknowledge the right of the Jews to be here . . .The one-sided reasoning of the Palestinians can be seen in that statement; "Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state". First, let's clear up the language. When we describe the conflict as Israeli-Palestinian we do the participants a disservice. It is a Jewish-Moslem conflict. It is Islam that still fuses religion and the state. That's why there is an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a fifty-six nation group delineated by religion even though there are substantial religious minorities in many of the member companies. Why is there no Organization of Christian Cooperation or a Buddhist Nations Conference? The OIC is a unique, national religious organization in today's world. While Jews and Christians can be tolerated in an Islamic country, that tolerance is dependent upon them agreeing to accept a subservient status that can be revoked at the discretion of Islamic authorities. It is very different from the modern Western idea of tolerance (see All Possess Alike Liberty of Conscience) and it is why the Palestinian resistance to the concept of a Jewish State is simply doublespeak. Islam, in the view of its adherents, deserves its own state (actually, many states), but followers of other religions do not.
In July 2001, nine months into the Jerusalem intifada and four months into the government of Ariel Sharon, a group of some two dozen intellectuals from both sides convened to build a bridge over the ruins of peace. These were all old friends who have been meeting for many years in hope of finding enough common ground to enable the politicians to pick up the torch. . . . Between them there must have been many thousands of hours of dialogue. Intelligent, educated individuals, rational realists, there was not a hard-line militant among them.
Their idea was simple: to agree on a joint declaration calling on the warring factions to desist from their insanity and return to negotiations . . . The Palestinians were willing to join in, stating that there should be two independent states alongside each other, but the Israelis, alerted by the fiascoes of Camp David and Taba to a nuance they had previously overlooked, demanded that the statement clearly say that Israel would be a Jewish state and Palestine an Arab one. The Palestinians refused. Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state. They were welcome to live in Israel, but the Palestinian refugees would come back, and she would cease in time to be a Jewish state.
If even the peace-seeking extremes cannot agree, there is nothing left to strive for.
Peace will never come until the Palestinians fundamentally recognize the rights of the Jewish people to have their state (as state that includes today 20% Arabs with full civil rights). Israel has recognized the Palestinians right to have their state, even one that is ethnically cleansed of Jews (under the Palestinian Authority the sale of any land to a Jew subjects the seller to the death penalty). While THC supports the removal of many of the Israeli settlements from the West Bank as part of a peace pact, the settlements are not the issue preventing peace. The Palestinians rejected the original division of the British mandate and vowed to destroy Israel before there ever was an occupation of the West Bank. Papering over this issue once again in the desire by the US Administration to declare victory will not result in lasting peace, it will only set the stage for the next phase of the conflict.