Benjamin Netanyahu demands that the Palestine Authority recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. For Netanyahu, this demand is a win-win. If the Palestinians don’t accept it, he can blame them for causing the negotiations between Israel and the PA to fail. If they do, he has a weapon against the Palestinian claim of a right of return for the refugees of 1948 and their descendants, who number in the millions.
But Netanyahu is not merely being opportunistic – he, like many Israelis, truly believes that there can’t be peace until the Palestinians recognise the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world. Why is this demand being made of the Palestinians, when it was not made of Egypt or Jordan when Israel signed peace treaties with those two countries? Because pre-1948 Palestine and post-1967 Israel are two sides of the same coin – they take up the same territory. The wars of 1948 and 1967, which created the state of Israel and enlarged its borders, turned the Palestinians into refugees and erased Palestine from the map.
In Israel one hears a lot about the Palestinians as a military or demographic threat. But for most Israelis the Palestinians present, no less, a psychological threat – a challenge to the country’s very right to exist. That is why a powerful Israel insists that the feeble Palestine Authority accept it as a Jewish state.
The American government appears to support Netanyahu’s position. Netanyahu’s ability to set the agenda on this, like other major issues in the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the PA, reflect the power disparity between them. The disparity exists on all levels – military, geo-political, and economic. Although many Israelis and supporters of Israel see things differently, the Obama administration has been and remains firmly supportive of Israel. Ironically, Netanyahu is much weaker in dealing with his own party and those to its right than with either the Americans or the Palestinians.