Borderline Views: Our own worst enemies

Prompted by Brazil and Argentina, recognition of Palestinian state could take on mass momentum, further isolating us if we refuse to acknowledge this.

December 14, 2010 10:19
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses the pr

binyamin netanyahu 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

The only surprising thing about Monday’s discussions by the EU and last week’s decision by Brazil and Argentina to formally recognize the independent State of Palestine even before it has been formally established was that it took so long in coming.

Given the green light by the Palestinian Authority, it is almost certain that the majority of countries would add their recognition, drawing in many who are dithering. Israel, the US and perhaps a handful of Western European democracies – and even the latter is by no means certain – would probably declare such recognition meaningless.

South American countries recognize Palestinian state
Report: EU holds off on recognizing Palestinian state

Israel would take a stronger stand, as indeed it did last week following the Latin American announcement, and declare that this is contrary to international law, that it derails the peace process (what peace process?) and that it serves only to strengthen the forces of evil and terror. But no one would be listening, and I am not even sure our own policy-makers are listening to the words they roll out as they automatically reject any move toward resolving this conflict through the establishment of two independent and equal states, a position which – as they need reminding – is the official position of the Israeli government and has been for a number of years.

UNTIL NOW, the PA has been ambivalent about the international community recognizing the state of Palestine before a peace agreement has been signed, if only because of the threats which Israel has issued concerning the possible ramifications of such a move. But the truth is that the PA has absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain by a universal recognition of its independent state which would probably lead to its acceptance as a full member of the UN.

The fact that Brazil and Argentina afforded such recognition last week is also important. While they have not been among the strongest supporters of Israel, neither are they categorized among the Israel haters. They are not Third World countries which automatically vote against anything to do with Israel, they do not harbor large terrorist groups, the influence of Islamic groups within their societies is minimal, they enjoy friendly diplomatic relations with Israel, and they are associated with a continent largely perceived as neutral in terms of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

They both have significant Jewish communities which live in relative harmony, while Brazil is seen as one of the major economic players – a sleeping economic giant – in the newly forming global economy.

THE LATE Ya’acov Herzog, a foremost diplomat and religious scholar during the first three decades of the state was absolutely right when his book of essays, A People which Will Dwell Alone, was published in the 1970s. Based on the biblical prophecy of Balaam, Herzog argued that the sad fate of the Jewish people and state was to be isolated within the international community for eternity.

But, unlike Herzog’s interpretation of this famous prophecy, today’s increased isolation is not simply due to an everlasting hatred of the Jews brought on by anti-Semitism.

Much of the isolation is brought on by our own government’s intransigent policies, talking peace but doing exactly the opposite, and rejecting any chance at reaching some form of resolution because of the compromises which will have to be made. We love to talk of our yearning for peace, security and stability, but absolutely nothing we do points to the fact that we are prepared to translate these words into actions.

And so we bring on our own isolation within the international community, whose major players – the US and EU – have played along with us for a long time, but are becoming increasingly dissatisfied.

It should be clear to all that we are no longer seen as a peace-loving country, not even by our friends and allies, and that we can no longer lay the sole blame for this at the door of the Palestinians. It is a situation which has increasingly been brought on by our own elected government.

Yes, the world is sympathetic when suicide bombers unleash terror in our cities. And yes, the world is sympathetic when it hears threats of driving the Jewish people into the sea and a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. But no, the world does not accept that a strong Israel which, more or less, has found ways of dealing with these threats, continues to occupy another people, and no the world does not accept that Israel, as the stronger side in the conflict, cannot give that bit more to reach the painful compromises which are necessary.

In a world where the self-determination of ethnic and national groups has long been a given, the Palestinians no longer have to justify their separate status to anyone. And unlike most other self-defined national groups desiring at the very least autonomy, and at most independence, they do not have to deal with the problem of secession from an existing state. Since the end of the British Mandate in 1948, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have never been part of the sovereign state of either Jordan or Israel. The legal status of these territories has always been “undetermined,” and it is for this reason that the international community has little problem in recognizing the establishment of a state there – as it has done in recent years with respect to both East Timor and Kosovo.

It won’t take much for the Latin American recognition of Palestine to become a mass international recognition, even further isolating us if we refuse to acknowledge this. Better that we take the necessary steps than have it forced upon us.

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University. The opinions in this article are his alone.

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