Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Acknowledging Israel's "Right to Exist": A Moral Judgment

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Acknowledging Israel's "Right to Exist": A Moral Judgment

Article excerpt

AS PALESTINE teeters on the brink of the civil war long sought by Israel, the U.S. and the EU-with Israel and the U.S. sending arms to the side perceived as responsive to Israeli and Western wishes for use against the side perceived as representing Palestinian interests-it may be timely to examine the justification put forward by Israel, the U.S. and the EU for their collective punishment of the Palestinian people in retaliation for their having made the "wrong" choice in their democratic election in January 2006-the refusal of Hamas to "recognize Israel" or to "recognize Israel's existence" or to "recognize Israel's right to exist."

These three verbal formulations have been used by media, politicians and even diplomats interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. They do not.

"Recognizing Israel," or any other state, is a formal, legal/diplomatic act by a state with respect to another state. It is inappropriate-indeed, nonsensical-to talk about a political party or movement, even one in a sovereign state, extending diplomatic recognition to a state. To talk of Hamas "recognizing Israel" is simply sloppy, confusing and deceptive shorthand for the real demand being made.

"Recognizing Israel's existence" is not a logical nonsense and appears on first impression to involve a relatively straightforward acknowledgement of a fact of life-like death and taxes. Yet there are serious practical problems with this formulation. What Israel, within what borders, is involved? The 55 percent of historical Palestine recommended for a Jewish state by the U.N. General Assembly in 1947? The 78 percent of historical Palestine occupied by Israel in 1948 and now viewed by most of the world as "Israel" or "Israel proper"? The 100 percent of historical Palestine occupied by Israel since June 1967 and shown as "Israel" on maps in Israeli schoolbooks? Israel has never defined its own borders, since doing so would, necessarily, place limits on them. Still, if this were all that were being demanded of Hamas, it might be possible for it to acknowledge, as a fact of life, that a State of Israel exists today within some specified borders.

"Recognizing Israel's right to exist"-the actual demand-is in an entirely different league, however. This formulation does not address diplomatic formalities or simple acceptance of present realities. It calls for a moral judgment.

What Israel, within what borders, is involved?

There is an enormous difference between "recognizing Israel's existence" and "recognizing Israel's right to exist." From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to acknowledge that it was "right" that the Holocaust happened-that the Holocaust (or, in the Palestinian case, the Nakba) was morally justified.

To demand that Palestinians recognize "Israel's right to exist" is to demand of a people who have for almost 60 years been treated, and continue to be treated, as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights that they publicly proclaim that they are subhumans-and, at least implicitly, that they deserve what has been done, and continues to be done, to them. Even 19th century U.S. governments did not require the surviving Native Americans to publicly proclaim the "rightness" of their ethnic cleansing by the Pale Faces as a condition precedent to even discussing what reservation might be set aside for them-under economic blockade and threat of starvation until they shed whatever pride they had left and conceded the point. …

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