On the eve of Israel’s sixty-first Independence Day last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared: we do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state or in any other form. None of the Israelis who have been maintaining contact with Abbas over the years expressed disappointment or, God forbid, criticism. For years they have smothered him with a thick layer of immunity. He can write whatever he wants against Israel or the Jews and even deny the Holocaust and negate Israel’s existence; he will always be the "partner for peace", the moderate with whom we negotiate a peace agreement based on reciprocal recognition between the two peoples.
I remember the harsh reactions I encountered when I reported that in his doctoral dissertation–his doctoral dissertation!–Mahmoud Abbas denied none other than the Holocaust. Most of the Israeli media chose to ignore the issue; a few chose to attack me for publishing this fact because I am anti-peace. I had hurt their man, their "peace partner". A week ago as well, none of the Israelis with links to Abbas had the intellectual honesty to ask themselves if it is not totally natural that the man who labored for years on a doctoral thesis that denies the Holocaust would of necessity deny the existence of the Jewish people and its right to a national home and state.
About a year ago, in a previous round of debate over Palestinian "recognition" of Israel as a Jewish state, President Shimon Peres spoke out against those who demand recognition: Who needs their recognition? Israel’s existence does not depend on their recognition or non-recognition. Ostensibly this statement testifies to national pride. In fact this is an exercise in self-delusion at the level of both principle and strategy.
Morally and on grounds of principle the state of Israel, the state of one of the oldest peoples on earth, does not require recognition on the part of any other people. It certainly does not need to be recognized by a people that only recently came into existence and that is still in the early phases of its formation, hence is emerging as a people hesitantly, in a bloody reality; a people that is itself conflicted as to the identity and sovereignty it wants and what it has to do to achieve them. Israel existed and even flowered when all the Arab countries were its enemies; officially, most are still in a state of war with it. Israel can certainly exist without the recognition of an internally-conflicted Palestinian entity that is being weakened if not paralyzed for generations to come by a growing fundamentalist element.
What the peace camp in Israel and beyond does not understand–or perhaps does not want to understand–is that non-recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people pulls the rug out from under the slogan the entire world recites: "two states for two peoples". If the Jews are not a people and have no right to a national home, then there will never be peace between the two peoples and there will never be two states.
Once again, the big losers will be the Palestinians. Israelis will continue their dynamic march toward closing off the geographic option for two states, which is indeed already fairly closed. Hence anyone aspiring to establish a Palestinian state–a goal for which many Israelis genuinely lay down their lives–must concentrate their efforts mainly in the Palestinian camp. When there is genuine movement in that camp toward recognizing Israel and ceasing all terrorism, there is a good chance most Israelis will meet the Palestinians halfway.
A second issue area that requires Palestinian recognition concerns Israel’s strategic status in the Middle East, particularly in light of the danger of a nuclear Iran.
Most western leaders argue that Arab and Muslim world hostility toward Israel will disappear with the creation of a Palestinian state. If this is indeed the case, they should be conditioning the creation of such a state on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. If they are right–and let’s hope they are–then we cannot exaggerate the effect that such recognition would have on domestic Arab developments.
Indeed, from Iran’s standpoint it would likely cause a virtual tsunami. Iran seeks support from the Islamic world based at least in part on the rationale that its military buildup is destined to support the Palestinians, who are at war. Hence Palestinian recognition would cause Iran to lose much of the legitimacy of its arms effort, certainly at the nuclear level. Syria, too, would have a considerable problem continuing to provide shelter, services and encouragement to organizations like Hamas and Hizballah.
Considering that Israelis who support a Palestinian state at any price belittle the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel for reasons of both principle and psychology, perhaps this strategic argument will persuade them. After all, they present themselves as pragmatic, logical people whose very point of departure is long-term strategy. Perhaps they can try for once to concentrate their efforts where it really counts: in the Palestinian camp. If once again they don’t do so, this will be a sign that all the pragmatism they associate with their cause is insincere. They may not question the Holocaust like Mahmoud Abbas, but they are certainly denying reality.