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The Demand for Israeli Recognition Goes to the Heart of the Matter

November 29, 2007 By:
Saul Singer
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Why is Israel obsessed with recognition? The Arab world is a largely dysfunctional collection of dictatorships, while Israel has become an island of freedom and a military and economic powerhouse. Is this the group of countries a democracy should go to for endorsement?

The whole recognition conundrum can seem like a terrible joke. The Palestinians have repeatedly recognized Israel's right to exist, yet this recognition, via Oslo, was followed by the most vicious terror onslaught Israel ever experienced -- not only in the territories demanded to be relinquished, but in the buses, cafes and streets in the heart of Israel's cities.

There is no greater negation of civilization than a suicide bombing, yet we seem to crave acceptance from the world's first society to celebrate such barbarism as the ultimate heroism.


Why seek the approval of such a society? The answer is that the pursuit of recognition has nothing to do with seeking Arab approval. Rather, we are seeking a much more critical goal for peace: Arab defeat and surrender.

We are used to thinking that peace is the ultimate "win-win." In many senses, it is. It is the Palestinians, after all, who do not have a state, supposedly want one, and need to make peace to get it. It is the Arab world whose economic and political growth has been so stunted by the war against Israel.

Yet in the Arab mind -- and in terms of the basic goal the Arab world has set for itself -- peace with Israel would represent a stinging defeat. The goal of the century-long Arab struggle has been to prevent Israel's establishment, then to destroy the Jewish state. U.S. and European diplomacy is based on the idea that this goal has been abandoned, if not overtly, then in practice. Accordingly, the job of the diplomats is to wrap up the details, as difficult as that may be.

In this view, the fundamental framework for peace already exists; it is just the outer shell that must be added. And if the Arabs are ready for peace, then the lack of peace is Israel's fault. As novelist Amos Oz recently put it in Yediot Achronot: "The burden of progress lies principally on the shoulders of the Israeli government and Israeli public opinion, since Israel is the one that is holding the Palestinian territories and not the other way around."

This is seductive logic, with wide resonance in Western governments. "What is Israel waiting for?" the world seems to urgently wonder.

This is where the "new" Israeli demand to be recognized as a Jewish state comes in. At first, this demand might seem "absurd," as a Ha'aretz editorial called it. India and Pakistan don't ask for, let alone receive, recognition from each other as Hindu and Muslim states, so why should the Palestinians have to pronounce on something so "internal" as Israel's Jewishness?

The difference is that India and Pakistan do not question each other's right to exist -- or seek each other's elimination.

The Palestinian refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state is a problem because it is the tip of the iceberg. Under the water's surface lie many other manifestations of the same denial, such as the demand for "right of return," the denial of Jewish history and peoplehood, the denial of the right to non-Muslim sovereignty and the portrayal of peace as a Western imperialist plot. All of these are mainstream Arab positions, with no organized movements openly representing opposite positions, even as a minority point of view.

It is this elaborate ideological apparatus that is the real obstacle to peace. Israel giving up more territory will not dismantle it. So when Israel says that it must be recognized as a Jewish state at the outset, it is clumsily saying that the Arab world cannot claim to be ready for peace while standing atop an edifice of war. This edifice will not be dismantled as the result of a peace agreement; a lasting peace agreement will be achieved as a result of dismantling this edifice.

Peace must be built upon mutual recognition, and the only recognition that means anything is of Israel as a Jewish state. Rather than resisting this demand as an obstacle, Western governments -- if they want to advance peace -- should be unreservedly demanding the same.

Saul Singer is editor of the editorial page of The Jerusalem Post.

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