Netanyahu to create official Jewish state

2014-05-19 20:13
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

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Tel Aviv - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday to expedite a proposed new law which would formally define Israel as a "Jewish State," a move that has caused consternation among the country's large Arab minority.

Some 20% of Israel's citizens are Arabs, either Muslims or Christians. Netanyahu's proposal, first put forward earlier this month after being under discussion for a lengthy period, would see the definition enacted at a constitutional level.

"We will pass a Basic Law which will define Israel as a Jewish and democratic State already during the current session [of parliament]," Netanyahu said during a meeting of his Likud faction in Knesset, according to the Ynet news website. While Israel does not have a constitution, it has several so-called Basic Laws which codify core legislation. "This is our answer to those who want to isolate us and to those who define the foundation of the Jewish State, Israel, as a disaster," Netanyahu said.

Palestinians refer to the founding of Israel in 1948 as the Nakba, or catastrophe, as it led to hundreds of thousands of Arabs becoming refugees in neighbouring lands. Palestinians fear that if Israel is legally defined as a Jewish State those refugees and their descendants will never be allowed to return.

Israel has been demanding in recent negotiations that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish State, something President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to do.

Israeli hardline nationalists want the state to be more clearly defined as a Jewish one, to further cement a unique characteristic of the country. Arab citizens have said the move would serve to further marginalize them, amid complaints of institutional discrimination.

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