Thank You, Avigdor Lieberman

By Jeffrey Goldberg

The Israeli cabinet has given its approval to a bill that would require new citizens to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The bill was pushed through by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, who is doing everything in his power to alienate Israel's friends, and to make Israel appear to be a country run by idiots. Even the Knesset speaker, Reuven Rivlin, a Likudnik, sees in the idea an element of self-destruction:

"The students of Jabotinsky see no need for such bill. I am a fervent Zionist, and I need no strengthening of my belief. The establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was an ethical act that the world recognized, and it gained great respect when we described our country as Jewish and democratic. This description is also anchored specifically in the Declaration of Independence and the Law on Elections, and any additions of this type can only be harmful. "This law will not assist us as a society and a state. On the contrary, it could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an effort to emphasize the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel."

The law itself would be largely symbolic, since few non-Jews seek citizenship in Israel, though it would affect Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs and then seek citizenship.

The larger, and looming question, is whether the Palestinian Authority should be required, as a condition for Israeli acquiescence to a peace deal, to publicly acknowledge that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. I'm agnostic on this question; on the one hand, it seems to be an unnecessary and provocative demand; on the other hand, the Palestinians, and their supporters across the Muslim world, have refused all along to acknowledge the obvious Jewish ties to the Land of Israel. It would be emotionally satisfying to hear the Palestinians acknowledge that Jews belong in the land between the river and the sea; most Israelis (not necessarily those Israelis who support the idea of a loyalty oath, however) already acknowledge that the Palestinian Arabs are a people native to the land. But on the other other hand, the success of a peace treaty will not hinge on the question of whether Palestinians acknowledge on paper Israel's definition of itself as a Jewish state; it will hinge, presumably, on more practical, concrete, and internationally-safeguarded guarantees. On the other otherĀ  other hand, the reason I don't blog more about questions related to the peace process is that I don't think it will work, not in the foreseeable future, so I'm not sure why I spend any time at all parsing what is, after all, a theoretical question within the theoretical peace process.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/10/thank-you-avigdor-lieberman/64348/