An Empty Statement
I once read in a book on negotiations strategies that the Japanese never say ‘no’ during negotiations. It doesn’t matter what the other party offers; the answer is “yes, we can do that” and then a condition or stipulation that makes sure to empty the other side’s offer of any content they dislike. For example: We would like to buy this new Lexus for only $10,000. Yes, absolutely, but there are few service fees that we must charge which were never included in the original price. Furthermore, the total price after the service fees does not include electric windows, locks, nor does it include air-conditioning, airbags, brakes, the engine will be a Renault -- not a Lexus engine, and there is no manufacturer’s warranty. You get the point.
Recently, the U.S. State Department Spokesman stated that while Israel is a Jewish State, there is no need for the Palestinians to recognize this. State Department Spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, speaking to the PA-based Al-Quds newspaper said: “The American position is clear, Israel is a Jewish state. However, we do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement.”
The novelty of this statement was not that the U.S. didn’t demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish State, rather it is that the U.S. State Department actually recognized Israel as a Jewish state!
The State Department’s ambiguity on Israel as a Jewish State and Jerusalem as its capital is longstanding. In a press conference in October, 2010, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley couldn’t admit that Israel is a Jewish State. Searching for words, stuttering and stumbling, he admitted that the U.S. recognizes that Israel is, “as Israel says itself -- is a Jewish state.” However, the roots of his confusion can be traced back to 1953 in a speech given by Henry A. Byroade, Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the Near East, South Asia and African desks at the State Department. In front of the Dayton World Affairs Council, he said, “To the Israelis I say that you should come to truly look upon yourselves as a Middle Eastern state and see your own future in that context rather than as a headquarters, or nucleus so to speak, of a world-wide grouping of peoples of a particular religious faith who must have special rights within and obligations to the Israeli state.”
In 2012, the State Department issued a routine statement announcing the visit of the Acting Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Kathleen Stephens to the Middle East. The statement began by stating the purpose of the trip and the people she would meet. Then the press release mentioned that she would be visiting, "Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel.”
Also in 2012, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether the U.S. views Jerusalem or Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital. Carney responded: “I haven’t had that question in awhile... our position has not changed, you know our position.” He tried desperately to move to the next question, until another reporter yelled, “no, she doesn’t know the answer that is why she asked!”
Thus, how could Psaki say outright that the U.S. recognizes Israel as Jewish State -- especially coming from the State Department? The answer is that it was easy for Psaki to say Israel is a Jewish State, because the only reason the State Department has had difficulty saying it in the past is because it would mean that they would also demand that from Arab countries. But once the State Department ceases to demand this from Arab countries, they can say day and night that Israel is a Jewish state without any difficulty. Why? Because it means absolutely nothing!
Gideon Israel is a research analyst for Sohlberg Consulting and an author of a comprehensive policy paper on the US aid to Israel.