Israeli right-wingers in cabinet push for Jewish state status to be set in law | News | DW | 08.05.2017
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Israeli right-wingers in cabinet push for Jewish state status to be set in law

The move comes just two weeks before US President Tump is expected to visit the region to discuss renewing peace talks. Critics say the measure would relegate Israeli Arabs to second class citizens.

Right-wingers in Israel's cabinet have renewed their push to anchor the country's status as a Jewish state into law. Opponents say it would relegate the Arab minority to second-class citizens and further diminish any hopes for a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

The revision of a bill, first proposed in 2011, declares the "State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people," its author, Avi Dichter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, wrote on Facebook.

The legislation still has to pass through the Justice Ministry and wind its way through parliament. But the cabinet level move, coming just two weeks before a visit by US President Donald Trump, carries political significance.

The bill could help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firm up relations with far-right members of his cabinet and underpin his bid to press Palestinians to recognize Israel as the "nation-state" of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu has long demanded such recognition as a precondition for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which had been moribund for years and collapsed outright in 2014.

Trump has pledged to jumpstart peace talks. But Palestinians say accepting Netanyahu's demand could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return.

Second-class citizens

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has characterized such "nation-state" legislation as putting "obstacles in the way of peace." Others, such as Arab legislator Ayman Odeh, have been more blunt in their criticism.

Odeh slammed the proposed bill, writing on Twitter: "The nation-state law is tyranny by the majority and 'legally' turns us into second-class citizens."

Critics also note that the proposed legislation, which also declares that the "right to self determination" in Israel is "unique to the Jewish people" impinges on the rights of its Arab minority, who make up some 20 percent of the population.

Israel Frank-Walter Steinmeier und Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (picture alliance/dpa/Newscom/R. Zvulun)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has visited Israel

The bill designates Hebrew as the country's only official language, although it requires government services and forms to be available in Arabic as well.

But Dichter defended the new bill calling it, "an important step in entrenching our identity, not only in the consciousness of the world but primarily in our own minds."

The revised bill appears to soften previous language that would have given Jewish values prominence in law-making and judicial decisions.

Centrist resistance

But the bill is not only opposed by political opponents but even centrists in Netanyahu's government have argued against a "nation-state" bill, calling it unnecessary and noting that the 1948 Declaration of Independence already proclaimed Israel a Jewish state.

They have accused Netanyahu of pandering to right-wingers.

During his upcoming visit to the Middle East, Trump is expected to discuss how he plans to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians - a goal that has eluded US presidents for decades. He is also expected to meet Abbas during his trip.

Odeh told the Times of Israel, "The danger of this bill is that it creates two classes of citizens."

bik/jm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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