While touting the economic benefits he expects to emerge from the “Abraham Accords” and similar agreements for normalization that Israel has signed with several Arab states, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Everybody who joined the Abraham Accords will see the benefits for their own people. I am highly confident that many, many more nations will choose to do the right thing and recognize Israel as the rightful homeland of the Jewish people.”
That is a lie, and it’s a willful and damaging one.
None of the agreements signed by the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan recognize any such thing. There was, in the Abraham Accords, recognition of sovereignty, a necessary pre-condition for normalizing relations, and a common practice between states.
But the recognition of anything other than sovereignty and territorial integrity is not a common practice, and in fact would be problematic if it were applied broadly. It is an unprecedented demand that is unique to Israel and is uniquely demanded of the Palestinians. Had Pompeo insisted on the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan recognizing Israel in the manner he suggested here it is nearly certain they would not have agreed.
The implications of such recognition would be great and complex. It would imply that the Zionist movement had the right to displace Palestinians to claim their “rightful homeland.” It would imply as well that Israel was being generous to this day in “allowing” over a million Palestinians to be citizens in the state they formed in the wake of that displacement. It would, in effect, be an explicit denial of Palestinians claims, particularly those of refugees.
That, of course, is precisely why Israel demands the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and why Palestinians so adamantly refuse to do so.
Imagine if, in order to have normal relations with the United States, another country not only had to recognize its sovereignty and territorial integrity—both of which can be simply recognized as established facts—but had to recognize the legitimacy of the massive slaughter and dispossession of indigenous communities, and the subsequent policy of Manifest Destiny, to do so. It becomes obvious how problematic that should be for all nations and would be at least for some.
Pompeo is, of course, aware of what the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan did and did not agree to. This is not a mistake, nor is it hyperbole on his part. It was a purposeful lie, which had several aims.
The most immediate goal of this statement is to reinforce the perception that the Palestinians are somehow being unreasonable in refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. While many believe that the Jewish people’s “rightful homeland” is the area known as Israel and Palestine for religious reasons, others, such as former Secretary of State John Kerry, simply did not understand why this was so important to Palestinians. He found out to his chagrin when he tried to get Jordan and Saudi Arabia to press Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on such recognition and was quickly rebuffed.
By saying that other Arab states had recognized Israel as the “rightful homeland of the Jewish people,” Pompeo convinces more and more Americans that the Palestinians are being stubborn and rejectionist.
It also reinforces Israel’s position, one articulated often by Benjamin Netanyahu but supported by a wide swath of the Israeli public and political leaders that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a necessity. It is this Israeli near-consensus that makes it even more important that we in the United States keep a firm grasp on the reality that this is neither a reasonable demand nor one that anyone else has agreed to, or even been asked to comply with.
Finally, Pompeo is trying to position himself as the leading candidate to receive the largesse of Sheldon Adelson for a 2024 presidential run. The casino magnate and his wife gave a whopping $172 million to Republicans this year. For context, the next biggest Republican donors, Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, gave a relatively paltry $59.2 million.
Adelson, an uber-hawk on anything related to Israel, is not only concerned with Middle East matters—he has the usual right wing super-wealthy opposition to taxes, and is a notorious opponent of labor unions—but Israel is certainly the single most important issue to him and his wife, Miriam.
So, Pompeo, recognizing it will be impossible to get Arab states to recognize Israel “as a Jewish state” or as “the rightful homeland of the Jewish people” simply lied about it.
But even that lie can be a powerful tool if supporters of peace and justice do not confront it.
It will be crucial going forward for the Joe Biden administration to try to get Israel to climb down form this demand. Palestinians cannot be expected to declare that Zionism was justified in dispossessing them, making the few that remained in the state of Israel second-class citizens, and denying all claims of Palestinian refugees. Even if Palestinians are forced to accept some of these conditions, acknowledging them as just and righteous is beyond the realm of the possible. As it should be.
Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state implies just such an acknowledgment. It is a non-starter for resolving any of the issues involved in the question of Palestine-Israel. It’s a ludicrous demand, and one that the international community should come together to insist be dropped.