Yediot reports today that Netanyahu is planning on responding to Abbas’s letter detailing Palestinian demands and preconditions for negotiations by dropping the one precondition of his own, namely that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Irrespective of whether this is a serious step toward reinvigorating peace talks, or just Netanyahu’s way of winning the battle for public opinion by highlighting Israel’s willingness to negotiate compared to Abbas’s obduracy, it is a good move. I have written before about why insisting on preconditions before negotiating is a bad idea, and by removing his, Netanyahu is bargaining from a position of strength.
Aside from the strategic aspect, dropping the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is good policy as well, and Netanyahu should not let it become a sticking point should talks ever progress to a final stage. Israel’s status as a Jewish state is not dependent on any outside recognition of that fact, and demanding that other parties recognize it as such makes Israel appear insecure. Israel’s Jewish character does not require Palestinian validation, and Netanyahu’s years of incessant demands that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as Jewish has always seemed petty and nothing more than a naked appeal to nationalism. The Jewish connection to Israel is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, Israeli law and custom, and Israeli society. Whether or not Mahmoud Abbas wants to admit this fact or not is of no consequence, and Israel should not elevate any outside party’s views on this issue to the point where it becomes an obstacle to a successful peace agreement. Let’s hope that this negotiating maneuver marks an end to the era of Israel being more concerned with irrelevant outside validation than with doing everything it can to implement a viable two state solution.