Israel’s ‘nation state’ law unites Arab world in condemnation

In Arab eyes the ‘racist’ provisions have finished off the two-state solution

Arab governments have condemned the "nation state" law adopted by Israel's parliament last week as racist, discriminatory and an obstacle to peace. The law defines Israel as the "historic homeland [and] nation state of the Jewish people", declares only Jews have the right to self-determination there and calls for Jewish immigration.

In the Arab view these provisions have finished off the internationally adopted “two-state solution” involving the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Arabs castigated the demotion of Arabic from an official language along with Hebrew to one with “special status”. Arabic is spoken by Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 per cent of the population, as well as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to intervene against the law. He rejected the claim enshrined in the law to Jerusalem as Israel's capital.


Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the law "officially legalises apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system". Apartheid is designated as a war crime by the 2002 Statue of Rome, which established the International Criminal Court.

Racial segregation

Egypt, the first Arab state to conclude a peace treaty with Israel, said the law consecrates "occupation and racial segregation". The Egyptian foreign ministry said the law "undermined the chances for achieving peace and reaching a just and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian issue".

The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty remains cold, opposed by the majority of Egyptians due to the failure to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Al-Azhar in Cairo, the Sunni world's most prestigious religious institution, called the law "a step that reflects repugnant racism".

Jordan, which signed the second and last Arab peace deal with Israel in 1994, warned that the failure to reach peace between the Arabs and Israel would lead to more violence and extremism as it undermines the presence of the Palestinian people in their homeland.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun and the country's divided political parties agreed the law constituted "aggression" against Palestinians and ruled out a return to their homes. Mr Aoun called for Arabs to unite to confront the legislation.

Lebanon, host to 450,000 Palestinian refugees driven from their homes in 1948, seeks their repatriation to Israel or to a Palestinian state.

‘Confront’ Israel

Saudi Arabia rejected the legislation and called on the international community to "confront" Israel over the discriminatory law. Its adoption amounts to a rebuff of Riyadh, which has supported the Trump administration's pledge to put forward a "deal of the century" meant to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict.

Syria’s foreign ministry argued the law “goes beyond the former apartheid system in South Africa” and blamed successive US administrations for giving a “green light” to Israel to pursue racist policies.

Speaking for the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council, secretary general Abdul Latif al-Zayani accused Israel of trying to erase the Palestinians’ “national identity and depriving them of their legitimate civil and human rights in their occupied homeland”.

While Arab rulers are eager to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, they dare not ignore the majority of Arabs who still regard the Palestinian issue as the Arabs’ main cause.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times