Recognition first, recognition above all

Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish stateBarack Obama, March 21, 2013

The ‘Jewish state.’ What is a ‘Jewish state?’ We call it, the ‘State of Israel.’ You can call yourselves whatever you want. But I will not accept it. And I say this on a live broadcast… It’s not my job to define it, to provide a definition for the state and what it contains. You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the Socialist [Republic] call it whatever you like. I don’t care.Mahmoud Abbas, 2009

When some 120 Israeli figures came here, they said, ‘What’s your opinion concerning the Jewish state?’, and I said that we wouldn’t agree to it. We know what they mean by it, and therefore we shall not agree to a Jewish state…Abbas, 2011

We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims — that they [Jews] have a historical right dating back to 3000 years BCE — we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7000 year history BCE. This is the truth, which must be understood and we have to note it, in order to say: ‘Netanyahu, you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history. — Abbas, 2011

Obama did not suggest that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be a precondition for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA), and PM Netanyahu has called for “negotiations without preconditions.” But there is no doubt that it must be a precondition — not just for talking to the PA, but for diplomacy with anybody about anything. How can a nation have a give and take discussion with someone who thinks that it is fundamentally illegitimate?

The Arab League initiative, for example, which I discussed here, does not include any mention of recognition. This is not merely an oversight: the initiative was conceived and is understood as an admission by the “Zionist regime” that is fully responsible for the conflict. The initiative calls for a redress of their historic grievance in part by means of the ‘return’ of almost 5 million Arabs who claim hereditary refugee status — something unheard of in the annals of diplomacy — which is incompatible with a Jewish state of Israel.

This is not a symbolic issue. Like Turkey’s ErdoÄŸan, the Arabs have a narrative that they are not willing to compromise, not even a little. It includes the propositions that

  • The Zionists created the conflict by taking Arab land and expelling the residents
  • Israel perpetuated it by starting wars
  • All the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan is ‘occupied Palestinian land’
  • Terrorism against Israelis is justified resistance to occupation

An agreement acceptable to the PA or the Arab nations must include an admission of guilt and an acceptance of the ‘ownership’ of the land by Arabs. Once this is done, then they may be more or less magnanimous to the Jewish residents — Hamas talks about killing them and the Arab league is willing to have ‘normal relations’ with them — but true Jewish sovereignty is out of the question.

So the Arabs insist on ‘right of return’ in order to reverse the nakba. They insist on withdrawal from 1967 territories to reverse the results of the several wars, and they insist on the release of all terrorist prisoners, even convicted murderers. All this sounds entirely fair and reasonable to them within the framework of their narrative.

This is why discussions about borders and security entirely miss the point, it is why the Camp David, Taba and Olmert proposals went nowhere, and why the negotiations that President Obama intends to restart will fail as well.

Unfortunately, many Israelis are blind to the importance of Arab ideology. They see the harsh statements of Arab leaders as ‘merely symbolic’, made for propaganda purposes or for home consumption. They believe that the Arabs are at bottom pragmatists like themselves, willing to set aside ideology for economic development or some degree of political autonomy.

This explains some really terrible ideas, such as the plan which surfaces periodically to grant the ‘refugees’ a ‘right of return’ in principle, but not in fact. Proponents say that it would satisfy the Arabs’ need for symbolism without destroying the Jewish state. But if such an abstract right were granted, then it would immediately be followed by demands to implement it in reality — just as the ‘apology’ to ErdoÄŸan has been followed by demands to end restrictions on the flow of weapons and explosives to Hamas in Gaza.

They are not posturing. They mean what they say, and what they say is that they don’t accept a Jewish state.

As long as the Arabs cling to the idea that Jewish sovereignty is unacceptable, then no possible negotiations can end the conflict. But the process of negotiating under pressure from the US — and the pressure is always almost all on Israel — is not only frustrating and pointless, it can be humiliating and even dangerous.

There is a simple solution. Israel must insist that there can be no negotiations until all parties agree that Israel is the Jewish state of the Jewish people.

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5 Responses to “Recognition first, recognition above all”

  1. Robman says:

    And this is why I view Obama’s recent visit to Israel as a net “postiive” for Israel.

    I didn’t expect much. I didn’t expect anything positive, really. So, that anything positive came out, that’s a “bonus” to me.

    What you open your article with, Vic, is what Obama would not do two and a half years ago. At that time, Netanyahu demanded as much as the precondition for extenting the construction freeze in the disputed territories for three more months. Back then, in the fall of ’10, Obama would not back Israel on this, and his spokespeople dismissed Netanyahu’s requirement here as a cynical dodge.

    So, in finally getting these words out of his mouth, Obama has given Netanyahu the ammunition he needs to stand firm against any serious concessions to the PA.

    Netanyahu needs to make this a “de-facto” precondition for any Israeli concession of any significance. So, even if the Israelis and PA sit down to negotiate “without preconditions”, Israel under Netanyahu needs to make it crystal clear that before Israel withdraws from any territory or does anything else for the PA, the PA MUST recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and from there, amend the Palestinian National Charter – which categorically rejects the very idea of a Jewish state – accordingly.

    Yasser Arafat gave assurances to Yitzhak Rabin to this effect back in 1993, without which Rabin would not have signed the Olso Accords. Arafat reneged – of course – and this issue remains unresolved. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard of Abbas saying that he’ll “NEVER” recognized Israel as a Jewish state, I could retire.

    So, Netanyahu needs to keep this issue front and center. If Kerry comes to the region and demands that Israel do this and to that (define borders, cede territory, etc., as Obama had asked of Israel during his infamous 19 May 2011 speech before the Foreign Service), and brush off recognition as something that “can be dealt with later”, Netanyahu needs to say ‘No f****** way. RECOGNITION FIRST!”, and hold Obama to his words of March 21.

    There is no way Abbas will do this. If he does, he winds up like Sadat, and he knows it.

    So, Israel will not have to give up anything.

    The PA/PLO is nothing but a band of thugs, whose sole purpose is to undermine Israel. Eventually, they will have to be disbanded/destroyed in order for there to be any chance of a genuine peace.

    Jordan as Palestine is the only workable solution to this problem. Sooner or later, it will come to that.

  2. Robman says:

    I would add one more thing:

    Recognition is the most fundamentally NECESSARY condition for peace, but it is not, by itself, a SUFFICIENT condition for peace.

    After all, Nazi Germany would have happily recognized an independent, sovereign Poland right up until September 1st, 1939.

  3. NormanF says:

    Israelis lack pride and self-respect. The Arabs see only dhimmi Jews in front of them and every Israeli concession and act of groveling before the Arabs only incites their contempt for the Jews.

    A people that behaves without honor doesn’t deserve respect and doesn’t need to be extended recognition. No amount of Jewish niceness, goodwill and restraint will induce the other side to change its mind and accept the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as the Jewish State.

    The Arabs are not the problem. The Jews have a deep-rooted sense of inferiority and have a desperate need to be accepted. Until they overcome it and insist on their place as a Jew who is an equal in the family of nations, peace is impossible.

    Robman makes an excellent point that FreznoZionism has ignored or overlooked – recognition is not enough to create lasting peace. The Arabs in Egypt and the PA have been at de jure peace with Israel for decades but anti-Semitism is still rampant in those societies and millions of Arabs still dream of wiping the Jewish State off the map.

    Its going to take more than a couple of signatures on the bottom line on a piece of paper to make the Arabs give up their genocidal designs against Israel and this is not going to happen in this century and the so-called two state solution will never be realized as a result.

  4. Robman says:


    Thanks for the kind words.

    And in answer to the obvious question you pose above: What WILL it take?

    Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan – particularly Japan – exhibited the kind of fanaticism we see in the Islamists of today. And, to defeat them and bring about peace, their societies had to be utterly bludgeoned.

    It isn’t just Israel, Norman. It is the Western populations in general that lack pride and self-respect, earning the contempt of the Islamists.

    I’m not an Israeli, but I’ve been to Israel and have Israeli friends, both on a local level and on the Internet. I did not and do not see a groveling people. There is more national spirit and genuine patriotism among Israelis, by far, than what I see here among Americans.

    I’m sure Israel would stand up to the Arabs in a more decisive way if they thought they had the backing of the West. Most of the “nice things” Israel does for the Arabs isn’t really for the Arabs, but to placate Western opinion. Israel is a small country and her leaders understandably perceive her consequent vulnerability in terms of trade, logistical support in time of war, etc. Hence, the seeming craven behavior.

    But how can Israel get the steadfast backing of the West, when Islamist interests walk all over Western publics? It must be horrifying and demoralizing as hell for you over there, when the President of the United States won’t even call terrorism terrorism, when he won’t even publicly acknowledge the Islamist nature of the enemy we fight. Increasingly, the bad guys are controlling the terms of the debate; the most legitimate criticisms of Islamic society are being branded as “hate speech”, and Islamic interest groups are trying to have free speech on these subjects literally outlawed.

    What will have to happen, sadly, is a few more 9-11s, or worse. When our policies of appeasement – which have been increased enormously under Obama but were there even before Obama – are revealed as utterly bankrupt, when the American people in particular and the West in general finally wakes up to the fact that direct confrontation with the Islamists and their state sponsors is the only way to defeat this barbarism, after a short and bloody war..there will be peace.

    Most of the Moslem countries have never experienced the full fury of our military capapbilities. We’ve always been pulling our punches, as have you at our insistence. No Moslem country has ever experienced anything close to what Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany experienced during WW2.

    When they’ve sufficiently pissed us off, there will be a war…and there will be peace.

    Israel is our front line, and many in the West realize this, more than you might think, even as our politicians in too many cases are too cowardly to admit or see this.

    In the meantime, hang in there as best you can, Norman. Sooner or later, things will change for the better. Hopefully sooner….and things will get worse first…but at least the likes of Obama coming around on the recognition issue is a start. A small start, but a definite, concrete start nonetheless.

  5. Vic Rosenthal says:

    First of all, I never said or even suggested that a statement of recognition would bring peace!

    I simply said that Israel should not even talk to anyone who does not recognize it as a Jewish state.

    My view is that peace with the Arabs is simply impossible because of the depth of hatred that has been nurtured by Arab leaders over the years. The best that can be hoped for is an extended cease-fire guaranteed by a strong posture of deterrence.

    I would put NormanF’s point a little differently. The problem is not that Israelis lack self-respect, but that they are trying to be a responsible, mature, pragmatic Western nation, to the point of closing their eyes to the reality of the Middle East.

    ‘Honor’ in all its forms is paramount in the ME. Israel consistently ignores this, allowing itself to lose face before its adversaries. Older Israelis of Mizrachi origin who have lived closely with Arabs understand this quite well, which is why they tend toward the Right.

    Deterrence has two parts: a strictly military part and a psychological component. It is as important to maintain Jewish and Israeli honor as it is to have an air force.

    Regarding the question of when real peace will be possible: Robman touched on it when he mentioned WW2. Peace will be possible when the Arabs have been so badly defeated that they will question the foundations of their world view. I don’t think either Israel or the West has the stomach to make this happen today.