Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday afternoon that it is a “mistake” for people to raise the issue of whether Palestinians would agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Israeli government has insisted that Palestinians do so as part of an agreement, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the nations of the Arab League have all rejected Israel’s demand.
“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the decider,” Kerry said, when asked to clarify the official position of the Obama administration. He pointed out that U.N. Resolution 181, which divided Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, referred to “Jewish state” several times, and that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had also explicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Last week, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper that while the U.S. considered Israel a Jewish state, it was not necessary for the Palestinians to do so. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary Kerry have made repeated references to Israel as a Jewish state recently, raising hopes that they might side with a demand the Israeli government believes is at the core of the decades-old conflict.
Update: Kerry’s full quote, in response to questions raised by members from both parties, was as follows:
“Jewish state” was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181, where there are more than forty–thirty–mentions of “Jewish state.” In addition, Chairman Arafat in 1988, and again in 2004, confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state. And there are any other number of mentions. But those are sort of the most important acknowledgments thereof. I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear. That’s a conversation that will continue.
In December 2013, on a visit to Israel, Secretary Kerry promised that he and President Obama were committed to pursuing recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” in a final agreement with the Palestinian Authority:
And I join with President Obama in expressing to the people of Israel our deep, deep commitment to the security of Israel and to the need to find a peace that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, recognizes Israel as a country that can defend itself by itself, and that is an important principle with which the prime minister and the President and I are in agreement.
In March 2013, during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, President Obama committed to pursuing a “Jewish state” as part of a peace agreement with Palestinians:
We also discussed the way forward to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. And I very much welcomed Bibi’s words before I spoke. I’ll be meeting with President Abbas tomorrow, and I will have more to say on this topic in the speech that I deliver to the Israeli people tomorrow. But for now, let me just reiterate that a central element of a lasting peace must be a strong and secure Jewish state, where Israel’s security concerns are met, alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to the Israeli Knesset, and called for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, citing Kerry as he did so: “…[I]magine–as John Kerry put it–mutual recognition of the nation state of the Palestinian people and the nation state of the Jewish people,” he said.