Bibi Uses “Recognition Plus” to Defy Obama and Block Peace Plan

by James M. Wall      Soldier and mural

Israel never misses a chance to create a new road block for peace. The latest? Recognition Plus.

Of course, Bibi Netanyahu could not put this latest road block over on the U.S. public without the help and support of the people he loves, AIPAC and his media and congressional friends.

I am indebted to Philip Weiss (Mondoweiss) for the heads up on “recognition plus”–a term initially coined by Lara Ferguson, writing in the Americans for Peace Now blog.

The heads up comes from Rob Browne, writing in Daily Kos.

Rob Browne at Dailykos has an excellent piece on the evolution of the Israeli demand for “recognition-plus”– that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, even before negotiations over land, refugees etc begin.

This “new and nonsensical” demand (which preemptively nullifies the right of return and valorizes the second-class status of Palestinian Israelis) began to show up two years ago.

And Brown demonstrates, that American groups played a crucial role in installing this language. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, for instance. And congressional bills sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Most Americans believe what they see and hear about Bibi’s desire for peace in the Middle East. His June 14 speech was dripping with sincerity and his desire for peace with his Palestinian neighbors.

Those same Americans, and the mainstream media, most likely missed the latest addition to the demands. “Recognition plus” has been added.  This is not Bibi’s term, of course, but as Browne points out, “recognition plus” is a deliberate road block to peace.

Browne points to this section of Netanyahu’s speech, which the American media has ignored:

Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.

The Palestinian leadership must arise and say: “Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace.”

I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, then a path will be opened to resolving all the problems between our peoples, no matter how complex they may be.

Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

I have already stressed the first principle – recognition. Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

What you are reading in Bibi’s speech is the result of carefully prepared road block, inspired by Hamas’ legislative victory over Israel’s preferred party, Fatah, in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006.

Faced with a possible unity government of Fatah and Hamas, Israel once again moved the goal posts down the field. After Hamas won the 2006 election, Israel added a new non-starter demand which it knew Hamas and Fatah would reject.

To the demand that the Palestinians accept the “existence” of the state of Israel, Israel added an adjective to the mix.  The Palestinians had to accept the “existence of the Jewish state of Israel”. Was “Jewish” in the earlier demands. No.

Here is Browne on earlier agreements before recognition plus was introduced by Netanyahu:

In peace agreements between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, there was official recognition of the State of Israel. The September 1993 letter from PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. None of the parties had to recognize Israel as the official state of the Jewish people, and recognition was not a pre-condition to negotiations.

The 2006 Hamas election victory threatened to bring progress for peace with Israel.  So Israel launched a two track initiative.

Track One: Nullify the Hamas election by jailing more than 40 Hamas legislators and cutting off outside funding to Hamas.

Track Two: Give Hamas a recognition plus (a Jewish state) “poison pill” demand it was certain to refuse.

Recognition was already on the table, thanks to the Road Map agreement. Jewish state was not.

The international Quartet that created the Road Map,  the U.S. (George W. Bush), the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations, had agreed that recognition of Israel would be one of the pre-conditions placed on the Palestinians for the resumption of negotiations.

According to a Quartet statement from January 30, 2006, “all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.”

OK, but still no “recognition of Israel as a Jewish state” was to be found in the Road Map mix. That little tidbit had to be added. Who better to make this happen than Israel’s staunch ally, the United States Congress, working under the direction of AIPAC.

Browne picks up the story:

Later in 2006, two Congressional Bills, H.R. 4681 (sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R,FL-18)) and S. 2370 (sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R,KY)) added the concept of “recognition plus” to the equation.

Now, not only was there to be recognition of the state of Israel prior to any resumption of U.S. assistance, but the recongition had to include Israel as a Jewish state.

The final reconciliation bill negotiated between the House and Senate used the Senate bill’s language which required Hamas to have “publicly acknowledged the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist”.

Thus did the U.S. Congress speak for the American people and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  The Congress endorsed recognition plus, thereby giving its blessing to the Jewish state of Israel.

Palestinians and Arabs could not agree to Israel’s demand to be recognized as a “Jewish state” for reasons Israel fully understood, as Ghassan Khatib explains:

The first is that such recognition will undermine and further marginalize the position of the non-Jewish minorities in Israel, especially the Palestinian minority, which constitutes 20 percent of the population, but also of what appears to be a significant Christian minority among recent Russian immigrants.

The second problem is that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state will augment the Israeli position against Palestinian refugees’ right of return to the lands and homes from which they were systematically and violently ejected in 1948.

The third problem with the concept of the Jewish state is that it’s seen by many people, including Palestinians and Arabs, to be a racist concept that contradicts the modern notion of democratic political systems based on the equal and basic rights of all citizens of the state, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. (emphasis added)

Lara Friedman writes in The Americans for Peace Now blog, (April 19, 2009) that “the demand for “recognition-plus” is Bibi’s new pretext for not pursuing peace”.

September 9, 1993 — the date that the PLO officially and formally recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and in return Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people — is a day that stands out in my memory.

As a US Foreign Service officer serving in Jerusalem during that period, I will never forget the palpable feeling of hope and anticipation that was in the air.

What is entirely absent from my memory is the recollection of any Israeli narrative at the time saying: “Sorry Mr. Arafat, but this recognition isn’t good enough.  What we actually need is your formal endorsement of Israel as a Jewish state.  If you can’t do that, then your recognition of Israel doesn’t count.”

It is absent not because my memory is faulty, but because this narrative simply didn’t exist.  Yitzhak Rabin did not say “thanks, but no thanks;” nor did Israelis.  Everyone understood that the demand of the Palestinians was and had always been: recognize Israel’s right to exist (or some slight variation thereof).

The historic September 9th declaration achieved exactly that.  The demand that the Palestinians “recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” – or what hereafter will be known as “recognition-plus” – came much later.

Friedman asks, “Why didn’t Rabin go for “recognition-plus” in 1993?” Her answer:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this new condition – raised again last week [in his speech] by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu – is nothing more than a ruse to avoid peace negotiations.  It didn’t come up in 1993 because Rabin, unlike some of his successors, wasn’t looking for such excuses. . .

If he [Bibi] can get the world to buy this new [recognition plus] demand, and then the Palestinians (predictably) refuse to meet it, he can make the case that he is ready to move forward to a peace agreement, but it is the Palestinians who are proving to be unreasonable and intransigent. . . .

Friedman calls recognition plus “a new and nonsensical demand” which “neither Egypt nor Jordan (nor the PLO) was asked to meet”.

To sell this latest road block as something it is not, Bibi Netanyahu depends on the ignorance and indifference of the American public. He relies on his AIPAC, media, and congressional friends to maintain that level of ignorance and indifference.

How’s he doing?  The evidence suggests he is doing pretty well. Have you seen recognition plus discussed in your favorite media outlet? I didn’t think so.

Meanwhile, Bibi uses recognition plus to defy the president of the United States.

Obama can overcome that defiance with a simple request to the prime minister of Israel:”Recognition plus was not in the original agreement, Bibi. Stick with the Road Map.”

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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7 Responses to Bibi Uses “Recognition Plus” to Defy Obama and Block Peace Plan

  1. Pauline Coffman says:

    Thank you for documenting this new “roadblock,” Jim. I feel like the frog who stayed in a pail of water that was being heated until he was cooked. These things creep up on me and I don’t realize it is a new step.

  2. Connie Baker says:

    Hopefully this discussion begins to raise awareness in the United States that while Israel may be a democracy, it is not one that recognizes equality for all of its citizens. Amazing is the number of people here who after repeating the mantra “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” are stunned when told that Israel doesn’t have a constitution much less a the Bill of Rights, and indeed has laws providing legal discrimination against Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

  3. Hi James – great post. Just for you and your readers, I blogged in detail about this issue on the APN blog on April 19, 2009 (Philip recognized this by embeds a link to my post in his piece, and Rob gave me a hat tip at the end of his post).

    In fact, in that post I coined the term “recognition-plus,” writing (in the section where I discuss the genesis of this new demand):

    “The demand that the Palestinians ‘recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state’ – or what hereafter will be known as ‘recognition-plus’ – came much later…”

    I am glad the term is catching on. If you like that, you might also like the original post, as well as the other stuff we write on our blog — I’d encourage you and your readers to take a look (


  4. “Israel is a not a democracy but is an Ethnocracy, meaning a country run and controlled by a national group with some democratic elements but set up with Jews in control and structured to keep them in control.”-Jeff Halper, American Israeli, Founder and Coordinator of ICAHD/Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and a Noble Peace Prize Nominee for 2006.

    Jeff also just said:

    “Congress has always been Israel’s trump card and the democrats have been more pro-Israel than the republicans. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the problem, not Netanyahu.

    “When you meet with your congressional reps ask them how their uncritical support for Israel-and what is seen throughout the world as a USA-Israeli occupation of Palestine can possibly be in the best interest of America. It is Congress that is keeping Palestinians fragmented by not dealing with Hamas.

    “Before 1947, the Palestinians owned 94% of the country. Then the UN gave aways 56% to the Jews and today they have 78% of the land. Hamas cannot accept the legitimacy of Israel stealing their land, just as no colonial people would ever give up the claim to their homeland.”

    the rest:

  5. wallwritings says:


    Thanks for your comment. I have updated the posting above to call attention to the role you played in bringing the “recognition plus” ploy to our attention. I do encourage my readers to check out your original posting at

    Jim Wall

  6. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: Thanks again for your comments. It is appreciated. Harris

  7. Thanks! I`ve been searching for this for a long time.

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