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Facts on the Ground
It is a travesty that 61 years after its creation, Israel is still being forced to justify its existence as a Jewish state.
When the United Nations mandated the partition of Palestine into two states in November 1947, its declared intention was to divide the land into "independent Arab and Jewish states."
Israel declared its independence six months later and was recognized by the United States, the Soviet Union and numerous other countries as a Jewish state.
The fact that an Arab state did not arise adjacent to Israel was a result only of Arab rejection of the U.N. mandate. The neighboring countries opted to wage war against the fledgling Jewish nation rather than help build a new country for their Arab brethren.
Given the urgent need to resolve the decades-old Israeli- Palestinian conflict, it generally is more constructive to focus on the future rather than dredge up the past. The exception is when Israel's raison d'être is being questioned.
Israel's creation was the fulfillment of the Zionist dream -- the in-gathering of the Jewish people in its ancestral home.
Today, Israel's population stands at 7,411,000, according to the country's Central Bureau of Statistics, up from 806,000 at its founding.
Of the total population, 5,593,000, or 75.5 percent, are Jews; 1,498,000, or 20.2 percent, are Arab; and the remaining 4.3 percent are foreigners who are not citizens. Israel now boasts the largest Jewish population in the world.
The Jewish state still needs to make progress in addressing the disparities in education and services to some of its minorities, including its Arab population. This is a position that segments of the American Jewish community have long advocated.
But that in no way should detract from Israel's unequivocal right to be recognized as the Jewish state, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought to do this week.
"A Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean?" Abbas asked in a speech Monday in Ramallah. "You can call yourselves as you like, but I don't accept it, and I say so publicly."
Though one might be tempted to dismiss Abbas' outburst as rhetorical pandering to his street, he and others must understand the impact of his words. They undermine the efforts of those who believe in the two-state solution, as well as fuel the fear that even the greatest concessions for peace will be met by more intransigence and negation of the very essence of Israel.
We don't expect the Arab world to become Zionists. We do, however, expect any partner for peace to recognize this most fundamental element of what Israel is all about. As we celebrate Israel's triumphs and rejoice in its centrality in our lives, we must demand no less.