Israel will seek to anchor its status as the national homeland of the Jewish people in law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
“One of my main missions as prime minister of Israel is to bolster the status of the State of Israel as the national state of our people,” Netanyahu said in a speech in Tel Aviv, a transcript of which was provided by his office.
“To this end, it is my intention to submit a basic law to the Knesset (parliament) that would provide a constitutional anchor for Israel’s status as the national state of the Jewish people.”
Netanyahu has made recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a key demand in the crisis-hit peace talks with the Palestinians which formally drew to a close on Tuesday.
The Israeli leader placed the issue of recognition at the forefront of the talks, describing Arab rejection of the Jewish state as the “root of the conflict” in a move firmly rejected by the Palestinians.
For the Palestinians, accepting Israel as a Jewish state would mean accepting the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, that befell them when 760,000 of their people fled or were forced out of their homes in the war that accompanied Israel’s establishment in 1948.
The chairman of Netanyahu’s coalition Yariv Levin congratulated Netanyahu for his “historic decision, that will bring Israel back to a Zionist course after years of ongoing legal eroding of the fundamental principles, upon which the state was founded.”
– Previous attempts failed –
“The prime minister has instructed me to push forward with the legislation without delay, as a continuation of the original bill I initiated,” said Levin, a hardline member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
In 2011 Avi Dichter, a member of the Kadima party, had attempted to pass such a law, but it was shot down by then-Kadima head Tzipi Livni. In 2013, Levin brought forth a mellowed version of a similar bill, which also was not advanced.
Netanyahu’s Thursday declaration was met with fierce opposition from the very coalition minister in charge of legislation, Justice Minister Livni, who vowed she would not enable such a law.
“Livni will continue to defend democracy, she has objected past initiatives that come at the account of democratic values in favour of ‘Jewish’ ones, and will do so even if the one proposing (the law) is prime minister,” her spokeswoman Mia Bengel wrote on Twitter.
Menachem Hofnung, a professor of political science at the Hebrew university, said such a proposal would probably not have a majority in the current cabinet.
He also said such a law was “not necessary”.
“There are already basic laws which state that Israel is Jewish and democratic,” he said. “So I’m not sure what is the effect of another law, besides putting another obstacle to the peace process.”
US-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were suspended ahead of an end-of-April deadline having apparently achieved no progress, amid bitter recriminations over issues that included Israeli settlements, Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian recognition Israel as a Jewish state.