Palestinian statehood doesn’t threaten Israel — but stalled peace process might, internal Foreign Ministry report says

Insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state will not help Israel’s legitimacy, senior official writes; Liberman says he never heard of the report

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations does not delegitimize Israel, Jerusalem’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state does nothing for the country’s legitimacy, and the stalled peace process harms Israeli interests. All these assertions, which read like the talking points of a European government or a pro-Palestinian NGO, are found in a report written by a senior official in the Foreign Ministry, of Israel.

The classified report, excerpts of which were published Sunday in Maariv, appear to contradict key foreign policy positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. But its author, DJ Schneeweiss, says he was merely analyzing the often-quoted but seldom clearly defined phenomenon of delegitimization, without commenting on the government’s positions.

“The Palestinian move [to receive nonmember status at the UN] should not necessarily be seen as an act of delegitimization, even if in the future the statehood status given to the Palestinians will be used for hostile measures,” the report said.

The Palestinian Authority has announced it will soon ask the UN General Assembly for the status of a nonmember state, which would enable it to join the International Criminal Court and other UN-related institutions.

Responding to the report’s publication, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday the text was not an official position paper and contained no policy recommendations. Liberman said he was not familiar with the report, and suggested it carried little actual weight.

In the report, Schneeweiss, Israel’s consul-general in Toronto, argued that the Netanyahu government’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and its fierce opposition to the Palestinian UN membership scheme, has little to do with Israel’s legitimacy. On the other hand, he seemed to suggest that starting a diplomatic effort to revive the peace process would strengthen Jerusalem’s position vis-a-vis delegitimization.

Until July, Schneeweiss served as the Foreign Ministry’s director of civil society affairs, in which position he oversaw the ministry’s efforts to counter attempts to delegitimize Israel in the international arena.

Responding to an email query by The Times of Israel, he said his report was merely based on a “preliminary assessment of the issue of legitimacy on the one hand, and the need to define ‘delegitimization’ on the other.” His report was an effort to define Israel’s legitimacy, or loss thereof, but not to comment on Israeli government positions.

According to Maariv, Schneeweiss’ report suggests that the government’s current legislative initiatives and the comportment of the IDF in the West Bank are counterproductive to Israel’s struggle in the court of public opinion, and should be conducted differently.

“We’ve become a stationary target that is unable to create its own attractive agenda and is forced to respond to the agenda of others,” Schneeweiss wrote, according to the paper.

The fact that a majority of the world’s nations are likely to recognize a Palestinian state “does not necessarily imply the rejection or the negation of Israel’s existence,” Schneeweiss reportedly wrote, without stating whether he supports or opposes Israel’s rejection of the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN.

It needs to be understood, Schneeweiss added, that Jerusalem’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state “does not guarantee Israel the necessary Western institutional legitimacy.”

While Schneeweiss, a native of Sydney, Australia, argued that Israel needs to counter the work of anti-Israel activists, he added that “we must not forget that also our own actions influence and shape this reality” of a climate hostile to Israel.

The author of the report, DJ Schneeweiss, currently Israel's consul-general in Toronto (photo credit: courtesy
The author of the report, DJ Schneeweiss, currently Israel’s consul-general in Toronto (photo credit: courtesy

The report indirectly criticized Israel for the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, saying “there is no doubt that conducting credible peace talks could limit the effects of the hostile campaign led by Israel’s various detractors.”

Israel’s leaders should not only speak of Israel’s right to exist and boast that it is the only democracy in the Middle East, but should actively work to safeguard the country’s character as oriented on Western values, Schneeweiss suggested.

According to Maariv, Schneeweiss criticized the Israeli government for some bills that were recently proposed in the Knesset and which critics considered “anti-democratic” because they would harm left-wing human rights groups in their ability to conduct their work in Israel, as well as for the way the IDF deals with international human rights NGOs working in the West Bank. Jerusalem should take note of how Western countries regard Israel’s conduct in these areas, he wrote in the report. European governments generally reacted critically to Israeli legislation that purportedly curtailed the work of such NGOs.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem responded to the publication of Schneeweiss’s report on Sunday, saying that he had written it at the end of his tenure as the director of the ministry’s anti-delegitimization department and was merely defining concepts and demarcating the department’s responsibilities.

“The author deals with the department’s activities and its interfaces with other departments within the ministry, but the report is not a position paper or a policy recommendation by the Foreign Ministry,” according to a statement released Sunday.

Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday, Liberman said the Foreign Ministry publishes “four reports a day, and I don’t read all of them.” Nobody in his office knew of the report, he said, quipping that “maybe it was written specifically for the journalist” who published it.

Schneeweiss himself defended his report by saying it merely analyzed the phenomenon of delegitimization without neccesarily contradicting Israeli government positions.

For instance, Schneeweiss said he thinks there are many reasons to oppose the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood bid, but the threat of loss of legitimacy for the state of Israel is not one of them.

Regarding the peace process, Schneeweiss said the position expressed in his report merely stated that without a functioning peace process, Israel’s enemies are likelier to win the sympathies of “some Western circles” than if there were serious negotiations — “not particularly earth-shattering in my view,” he told The Times of Israel. Likewise, it was obvious that the IDF’s behavior in the territories impacts the international community’s perception of Israel, he added.

On the issue of a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Schneeweiss said: “This is simply not the coinage in which the western world collects its ‘legitimacy tax.’ In other words, this may for all sorts of reasons be a good demand to have on the table (for example as part of the means of skewering the Palestinian claim of return), but it is not a demand that in my view can or will have any impact on the West’s perception of Israel as legitimate or not. That perception derives from other things.”

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