When Palestinians stop recognizing Israel

The results of the latest public opinion poll conducted by the  Jerusalem Media and Communication Center and published in June,  2001 were alarming to many Israelis. The greatest indication of this  was the prominent op-ed published by Ze’ev Schiff in Ha’aretz on June 27. Shiff’s main conclusion was that there has been a dramatic shift and radicalization of Palestinian public opinion, particularly pertaining to Palestinian recognition of Israel’s existence.

There is no doubt that the 10 months of the fierce and bloody Palestinian-Israeli confrontations has contributed to these changes, in particular the growing Palestinian backing for military expressions of the Intifada and the uprising’s continuity. This has happened at the same time as the Palestinian public has become more skeptical in its support for the peace process. It is useful, therefore, to try to analyze the meaning and the causes of these changes.

In Palestinian political thinking, the recognition of the state of Israel -part and parcel of giving up certain Palestinian rights in that of Palestine which is now called Israel – and the ending of the Israeli occupation in order to allow for an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, are one complete package. The two cannot be separated; they are different faces of the same coin.

There are several reasons behind this. First, Palestinians have no incentives to give up their historical rights in Palestine by recognizing Israel’s right to exist if they, in return, are not granted the right of self-determination and independence in the rest of Palestine. Second, one of the major arguments used by the Palestinian “peace camp” to convince the public to recognize Israel as per United Nations Resolution 242 was that the only way to end the occupation and achieve self-determination was to base the Palestinian position upon international norms and laws. These, among other things, include the need to recognize Israel and its right to exist.

The collapse of the peace process and the subsequent confrontations, in addition to every single Israeli government’s insistence upon expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, have weakened the Palestinian people’s hopes and expectations that the Israeli occupation will end and an independent Palestinian state be established in accordance with the June 4, 1967 borders as designated by international resolutions. As a result, the Palestinian majority is no longer convinced that it is worth recognizing Israel.

Israel can, by the virtue of force, maintain its occupation over the Palestinian occupied territories. But this force will never be sufficient to achieve other Israeli objectives such as peace, security and recognition, for the simple reason that security, peace and recognition are incompatible with occupation. Israel will have to choose between one of the two packages and should not be surprised when it fails to have its cake and eat it, too.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is the publisher of the Palestine Report.

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