Nov 27 2014
By Daoud Kuttab
When former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and President Mahmoud Abbas, as representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), held secret talks with members of Israel’s Labor Party in 1993, they were dealing with a secular political party that headed a coalition also including non-Zionist religious parties. When Yasser Arafat, as chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee, signed a letter that same year recognizing the State of Israel, the secular coalition government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had not tried to define Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people.
Although the issue of the Jewish character of Israel has been part of domestic debates for decades, on Nov. 23 the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a legal step on the matter. In a 14-6 vote, his Cabinet approved the latest draft of a controversial 14-item bill to declare Israel “the national homeland of the Jewish people.” According to Netanyahu, the measure will give Arab citizens of Israel equal individual rights while bestowing Jews in Israel and around the world national rights, an assertion fiercely rejected by many in Israel. Continue Reading »