What does it mean, when Israel requests in negotiations that the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas recognize it as a Jewish state, and why is it so very difficult for Abbas to agree on this tiny point?
Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state began in 2007, when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak proposed it to then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert agreed, because it was seen as such a small, insignificant demand, which would lead to goodwill on both sides: Israel would be happy the Palestinians accepted the demand, and the Palestinians would be happy, because Israel would reciprocate favorably in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. Olmert could not have been more mistaken, as Abbas didn't say yes to anything Olmert offered, even when Abbas was offered 100% of his demands. When Netanyahu was voted into office, he decided to maintain the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
At its core, the term "Jewish state" refers not to the religion of the state, but the nationality of the people. Since their emergence in antiquity, the Jewish people have always been a nation, a civilization, and a people that have chosen to anchor several basic aspects into our 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.
Israel has accepted the Palestinian right for self-determination, they must accept our right. We determined ourselves as a Jewish state, which has also received international recognition. In 1947, UN General Assembly Resolution 181 talks of a Jewish state. This is more than just religious connotations, it is our identity. Throughout history, Israel has been the Jewish state. It’s true, at several points in our history we were not the masters of our own land, but even so, the Jews never left. For over 3,000 years there has always been a Jewish presence within the modern-day borders of the State of Israel.
It’s very simple to understand why Abbas won't recognize Israel as a Jewish state: The very moment Abbas recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinians will have to give up any claims they've ever had on Israel. Not only their claims over areas in Judea and Samaria, but over the Galilee, Negev, Haifa and Tel Aviv as well. Abbas will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state because he is too busy peddling his own false narrative, that of Palestinians who have been living in Israel since the time of the Second Temple. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state means recognition of our thousands of years of history in Israel, which is something Abbas just can't do.
Israel as a Jewish state does not mean that non-Jews will be expelled or treated as second-class citizens (as many Jews are treated in Arab and Muslim countries all over the world). We Jews who lived for 2,000 years under the rule of Christians and Muslims, know that there is no dissonance between being loyal to one state while practicing another religion. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is recognizing the truth, that the Jewish people have lived in Israel for the past 3,000 years, and following the reestablishment of the Jewish State in 1948, we're not going anywhere, we're here to stay.