Sunday, March 11, 2007

The "Right to Exist"

As alluded to in previous posts, much is made of the state of Israel's "right to exist" and I have called into the question whether it really is Israel whose "right to exist" is genuinely threatened. But there's another weakness in this framing of the conflict that I neglected. The entire argument is nonsensical on its face. In a piece in the Los Angeles Times today entitled, Why Does The Times Recognize Israel's 'Right to Exist'?, Saree Makdisi thrashes the nail soundly about the head:

First, the formal diplomatic language of "recognition" is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to "recognize" a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).

Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to "recognize?" Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, "Israel" is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of "Israel"?

For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?

If none of these questions are easy to answer, why are such demands being made of the Palestinians? And why is nothing demanded of Israel in turn?

Orwell was right. It is much easier to recycle meaningless phrases than to ask — let alone to answer — difficult questions. But recycling these empty phrases serves a purpose. Endlessly repeating the mantra that the Palestinians don't recognize Israel helps paint Israel as an innocent victim, politely asking to be recognized but being rebuffed by its cruel enemies.

Actually, it asks even more. Israel wants the Palestinians, half of whom were driven from their homeland so that a Jewish state could be created in 1948, to recognize not merely that it exists (which is undeniable) but that it is "right" that it exists — that it was right for them to have been dispossessed of their homes, their property and their livelihoods so that a Jewish state could be created on their land. The Palestinians are not the world's first dispossessed people, but they are the first to be asked to legitimize what happened to them.

Imagine that. Palestinians are being asked to "recognize" an entity that wont return the favor and wont even go so far as to fully define what it is they wish to have recognized -- it's own borders. Meanwhile it's teaching its children that the land Palestinians are standing on is already part of Israel. I suppose that explains what we see in this map and this one. Nice.

Whose right to exist is really in danger here?