Interesting Times: Why Israel is obsessed

The Arab world cannot claim to be ready for peace while standing atop an edifice of war.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
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 also in terms of the basic goal the Arab world has set for itself, peace with Israel is a stinging defeat. "Annapolis is only another stop on the endless road of open-ended [Arab] defeats," the editor of the Lebanese daily As-Safir, Talal Salman, is quoted as saying in an Al-Ahram Weekly report on the 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat's Knesset speech. "This is mainly because... Sadat's trip to Jerusalem... undermined the chances of a comprehensive and fair peace as much as - or more than - it eliminated the chances for war." THE GOAL of the century-long Arab struggle has been to prevent Israel's establishment, then to destroy the Jewish state. American and European diplomacy is based on the idea that this goal has been long 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 Amos Oz put it in Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday, "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 Haaretz 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 truth is that if the Arab world were not busy in so many ways denying Israel's right to be here, its recognition of a Jewish state would be a diplomatic non-issue. 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:
  • The demand for "return." The Arab claim of the right of Palestinians to move to Israel - while demanding that Israelis move out of a future Palestinian state - amounts to a denial of Israeli sovereignty and a refusal to abandon the dream of a "Greater Palestine" in Israel's stead.
  • The denial of Jewish history. Yasser Arafat dumbfounded Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David summit when he denied any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, which was built on the site of the First Temple and to support the Second Temple. This was no Arafatian quirk but representative of the widespread Arab denial of any Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.
  • The denial of Jewish peoplehood. Similarly, the Arab world rejects the existence of a Jewish people with national rights. Judaism, they claim, is a religion, and religions don't define peoples.
  • The denial of the right to non-Muslim sovereignty. While the Islamic concept of dhimmi - that non-Muslims can only be accorded the status of subjects under Muslim sovereignty - may be mainly identified with groups like Hamas and al-Qaida, it is also the basis of the "secular" and "nationalist" denials of Israel's right to exist. Otherwise why would the existence of a single Jewish state that is a hundredth the size of the Arab world be such an affront?
  • The portrayal of peace as a Western imperialist plot. Peace is more regularly depicted in the Arab world as a threat than an opportunity. Shimon Peres's dream of a "New Middle East" of open borders and free trade is seen by Arabs as a nightmare of Israeli economic domination. Americans and Jews are regularly demonized, leaving the distinct impression that peace with Israel would dismantle the only dam protecting the Arab world from their predations.
  • The lack of a peace movement. All of the above are mainstream Arab positions, with no organized movements or political parties 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. Indeed, we have seen that the unilateral withdrawals to date have strengthened the forces that most shrilly proclaim the rejectionist ideology. So when Israel says it must be recognized as a Jewish state at the outset, and not as a theoretical end point, 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 Israeli demand as an obstacle, Western governments, if they want to advance peace, should be unreservedly demanding the same. [email protected]