October 20, 2014

Recognition in the Middle East

                                                                                                                         Tel Aviv -- photo: Reuters

In the UK and Europe, politicians are declaring recognition of a state of Palestine that does not yet recognize the state of Israel.

Yasser Arafat, the first leader of the Palestinian Authority, never did recognize Israel. Even after the handshake with Yitzchak Rabin and the shared Noble Prize for Peace, Arafat continued to wear an image of Palestine that included all of Israel; the Palestinian National Charter that claims Israel has no right to exist and endorses violence to achieve this goal -- never has been changed. The PA operates under this Charter even today.

Meanwhile Hamas, ruling over Gaza, explicitly broadcasts its non-recognition of Israel in its Charter and public statements. The fully Palestinian controlled state of Gaza has not renounced its campaign of firing rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians. And yet, there is a sudden urgency in Europe and the UK to recognize a state of Palestine.

Prime Minster Cameron, who abstained from the British Parliament vote, specified that recognition will not affect diplomacy, and Sweden’s Prime Minister clarified that his parliament’s vote is intended to encourage two states.  Sounds benign but these recognitions seem confused.

The Gaza half of Palestine speaks and acts with unambiguous commitment to violent elimination of Israel. This is not encouraging for a two state solution.

Nor is the West Bank half of Palestine, presided over by Mahmoud Abbas in his ninth year of a four-year term, especially encouraging. President Abbas states both that not a single Jew shall be allowed in the future state of Palestine and that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state should not be required; after all, neither Jordan nor Egypt said the word, Jewish, when they made peace with Israel.

Of course, this word game wasn’t operating when Egypt and Jordan signed peace agreements with Israel since there was no question that they recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

In popular culture in the Middle East, mentioning Israel at all causes conflict.

A recent example:  two Arab-Israeli singers are participating in Arab Idol, the most popular show on Arab television. When the program displayed a map showing all the countries of the participants, viewers were outraged because Israel was included. Quickly an apology was issued and the two singers who live in northern Israel were now shown as living in Palestine.

Those governments outside the Middle East wanting to encourage the two state solution would do well to notice that the state of Israel still needs to be recognized there as well.