John Kerry reversed months if not decades of American policy on Israel in testimony before Congress yesterday, arguing that insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is “a mistake.” Just three months ago, Kerry promised Israelis that the US would stick to that condition, as Joel Pollak notes at Breitbart — and yet here he was yesterday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that he’s tired of it coming up “again and again as the decider”:

“Jewish state” was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181, where there are more than forty–thirty–mentions of “Jewish state.” In addition, Chairman Arafat in 1988, and again in 2004, confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state. And there are any other number of mentions. But those are sort of the most important acknowledgments thereof. I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear. That’s a conversation that will continue.

Joel notes that Barack Obama made a similar promise a year ago to make recognition of a Jewish state central to any peace plan:

We also discussed the way forward to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. And I very much welcomed Bibi’s words before I spoke. I’ll be meeting with President Abbas tomorrow, and I will have more to say on this topic in the speech that I deliver to the Israeli people tomorrow. But for now, let me just reiterate that a central element of a lasting peace must be a strong and secure Jewish state, where Israel’s security concerns are met, alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.

Don’t think for a moment that Israelis didn’t notice the shift either, although the government of Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be biting its collective tongue for the moment (via The Right Scoop):

A new statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry, to the effect that Israel is misguided in insisting that the Palestinians officially recognize it as a Jewish state, indicates that Washington is wary of dealing with Palestinian intransigence and instead chooses to focus on Israel, an Israeli official said Friday.

While there was no official Israeli response to Kerry’s comments, Israel Radio quoted an unidentified political source as saying that it was “easier for the Americans to pressure Israel to give up on the demand for recognition of a Jewish state than to deal with the Palestinians.” …

In recent months, Netanyahu has been insisting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” — something Palestinians are refusing to do, believing it would irrevocably torpedo chances for the return of refugees living in exile. Israel rejects any mass “return” of refugees and their descendants to Israel, since this could drastically alter the Jewish state’s demographic balance, and says Palestinian refugees should become citizens of a Palestinian state.

One could argue that this is just a tactical shift by Kerry, and certainly that was his explanation yesterday. If all the world sees Israel as a Jewish state and the UN recognizes it as such, what difference at this point does it make if the Palestinians only recognize Israel’s secular sovereignty? That ignores, however, the Israeli concerns about rights of return claims by Palestinians, who will argue that because Israel is not a “Jewish state,” then it should allow the return of the dispossessed from the 1948 and 1967 wars, along with their families, back to their original land — along with full civil rights within Israel. That would quickly put Jews in Israel in the minority within their own Jewish state, regardless of what the rest of the world “recognizes,” and eventually force them to abandon it.

The shift sends yet another message of American weakness and desperation, too, as well as a further sense that this administration lives in a fantasy bubble rather than reality. Invoking Arafat, who in the end rejected the two-state solution offered him and started a street war instead, as an authority that proves Palestinian Authority recognition of the Jewish state as a fait accompli is especially fanciful, given the fact that Mahmoud Abbas and the entire Arab League voted to oppose any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state earlier this week:

The Arab League on Sunday endorsed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, as U.S.-backed peace talks approach a deadline next month. …

Abbas complained on Saturday that Palestinians were being asked for something that had not been demanded of Arab countries that have previously signed peace treaties with Israel.

“We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the (1993) Oslo agreement – why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?” he asked.

“Why didn’t they present this demand to Jordan or Egypt when they signed a peace agreement with them?” Abbas added.

Jordan and Egypt didn’t demand the right of return in those peace agreements, however. The PA has continued to insist on it despite Israeli refusal to ever accept it, and what’s more, the PA keeps promising that it won’t conclude any peace deal without it. Perhaps Israel might drop the demand if the PA gets around to telling its people the truth, which is that any real two-state solution will mean permanent ending any expectation of returning to land within Israel.

Even apart from that, though, the quick US cave to the Arab League and reversal on our pledge sends signals to Israel — and other allies, too, about our reliability. That’s a much bigger mistake by Kerry and Obama than anything he described in this appearance.