Recognition of Israel Necessitates Recognizing Palestine First

Mahmoud Abbas submitting the application of the state of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations

Author’s note: Recognizing Israel has been an Israeli precondition for sitting around one table with the Palestinians to start the so-called peace talks.

In almost all the screwed up bilateral negotiations over the past two decades, the Israeli side would always issue statements that justify and stick the failure of negotiations on the other side’s unwillingness to recognize the state of Israel.

While most people were duped by this oversimplification, there are few who saw the catch in that statement.

Recognizing a state requires the existence of an equal state, politically and legally on the same level, to make the recognition. In other words, if Israelis insist that Palestinians recognize the state of Israel, then Palestine should be acknowledged first as a fully fledged state.

You simply can’t ask an entity, which what Palestine is regarded now at the United Nations, to recognize the state of Israel. This is legally and logically unacceptable.

This Israeli request for recognition by the Palestinians, which is one of Israel’s favorite excuses for not proceeding with the peace process, is but a phony argument that nevertheless gives the current Palestinian bid for UN statehood more authenticity and urgency for the sake of carrying on once again with the bilateral negotiations that both Israel and its American ally are raving about these days as the only way to reach an agreement or rather the only way out of this UN vote crisis.

The following article is one of the classic and most profound pieces on the Israeli alleged and misconceived right of existence.  


What ‘Israel’s Right to Exist’ Means to Palestinians 

“Recognition would imply acceptance that they deserve to be treated as subhumans.”

John V. Whitbeck

Since the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel and much of the West have asserted that the principal obstacle to any progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is the refusal of Hamas to “recognize Israel,” or to “recognize Israel’s existence,” or to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

These three verbal formulations have been used by Israel, the United States, and the European Union as a rationale for collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The phrases are also used by the media, politicians, and even diplomats interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. They do not.

Recognizing Israel” or any other state is a formal legal and diplomatic act by one state with respect to another state. It is inappropriate – indeed, nonsensical – to talk about a political party or movement extending diplomatic recognition to a state. To talk of Hamas “recognizing Israel” is simply to use sloppy, confusing, and deceptive shorthand for the real demand being made of the Palestinians.

Recognizing Israel’s existence” appears on first impression to involve a relatively straightforward acknowledgment of a fact of life. Yet there are serious practical problems with this language. What Israel, within what borders, is involved? Is it the 55 percent of historical Palestine recommended for a Jewish state by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The 78 percent of historical Palestine occupied by the Zionist movement in 1948 and now viewed by most of the world as “Israel” or “Israel proper”? The 100 percent of historical Palestine occupied by Israel since June 1967 and shown as “Israel” (without any “Green Line”) on maps in Israeli schoolbooks?

Israel has never defined its own borders, since doing so would necessarily place limits on them. Still, if this were all that was being demanded of Hamas, it might be possible for the ruling political party to acknowledge, as a fact of life, that a state of Israel exists today within some specified borders. Indeed, Hamas leadership has effectively done so in recent weeks.

Recognizing Israel’s right to exist,” the actual demand being made of Hamas and Palestinians, is in an entirely different league. This formulation does not address diplomatic formalities or a simple acceptance of present realities. It calls for a moral judgment.

There is an enormous difference between “recognizing Israel’s existence” and “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified.

For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba – the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949 – is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was “right” for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

Palestinian labourers line up, for hours with no shelter, to cross an Israeli checkpoint as they return to their homes after a day's work in the Jewish state on January 3, 2010 near the village of Ni'ilin in the West Bank

To demand that Palestinians recognize “Israel’s right to exist” is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians’ acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them. Even 19th-century US governments did not require the surviving native Americans to publicly proclaim the “rightness” of their ethnic cleansing by European colonists as a condition precedent to even discussing what sort of land reservation they might receive. Nor did native Americans have to live under economic blockade and threat of starvation until they shed whatever pride they had left and conceded the point.

Some believe that Yasser Arafat did concede the point in order to buy his ticket out of the wilderness of demonization and earn the right to be lectured directly by the Americans. But in fact, in his famous 1988 statement in Stockholm, he accepted “Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.” This language, significantly, addresses the conditions of existence of a state which, as a matter of fact, exists. It does not address the existential question of the “rightness” of the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people from their homeland to make way for another people coming from abroad.

The original conception of the phrase “Israel’s right to exist” and of its use as an excuse for not talking with any Palestinian leaders who still stood up for the rights of their people are attributed to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. It is highly likely that those countries that still employ this phrase do so in full awareness of what it entails, morally and psychologically, for the Palestinian people.

However, many people of goodwill and decent values may well be taken in by the surface simplicity of the words, “Israel’s right to exist,” and believe that they constitute a reasonable demand. And if the “right to exist” is reasonable, then refusing to accept it must represent perversity, rather than Palestinians’ deeply felt need to cling to their self-respect and dignity as full-fledged human beings. That this need is deeply felt is evidenced by polls showing that the percentage of the Palestinian population that approves of Hamas’s refusal to bow to this demand substantially exceeds the percentage that voted for Hamas in January 2006.

Those who recognize the critical importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and truly seek a decent future for both peoples must recognize that the demand that Hamas recognize “Israel’s right to exist” is unreasonable, immoral, and impossible to meet. Then, they must insist that this roadblock to peace be removed, the economic siege of the Palestinian territories be lifted, and the pursuit of peace with some measure of justice be resumed with the urgency it deserves.

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, is the author of, “The World According to Whitbeck.” He has advised Palestinian officials in negotiations with Israel.


11 thoughts on “Recognition of Israel Necessitates Recognizing Palestine First

  1. For two thousand years, the region (not a “nation”) of Palestine included what is now Jordan and Israel. Then, in the early 20th C. the Brits decided to rename the land East of the Jordan “Trans-Jordan” and the land to the West Jewish Palestine.

    The Arab-speaking nomads shared the land with Turks, Greeks, Italians, Egyptians, European Jews, Levantine Jews, Druze– none of whom referred to themselves as “Palestinian.” The Arabs have no more claim to that land than any of these other groups, but they already got the lion-share (Jordan).

    Jordan is the “Palestinian” state and the so-called “Palestinians” should demand of Jordan: “Release us from our exile! Let your people in!”

    The United States should start referring to Jordan as what it is: Arab Palestine.


  2. Dr. Ezzat, I saw these same two excellent articles on the “Opinion-Maker” site and started to comment there until I saw the link to your site. I noticed from your author profile on the former site that you are well-read in history and are an opera buff. These are two of my favorite subjects as well. I have taught history at the elementary school level here in the U.S., and I have sung opera.

    The situation in Palestine just seems to get more and more desperate, even as the fawning U.S. “Mainstream Media” makes it appear as though Palestinian fortunes are rising “if only they will see reason.” It appears that Zionist control of the U.S. government, and the media, is all but complete. It is my hope, however, that the Turkish-Israeli-Egyptian controversies, and pressure from hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who are sick to death of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will force the Likudists to drop their blockade of Gaza, at least for awhile. But the virtual appropriation of the Palestinian territories will probably continue, even then. What a miracle a truly open-minded and courageous American president, aided by some equally courageous Senators and Representatives could work if they would just refuse to veto the Palestinian bid for statehood. But, we all know that that won’t happen, at least not now.


    1. Moseby,

      Thank you for the comment, and yes I’m a classic music & opera maniac.
      As for the Palestinian plight, as you mentioned , we really need an american hero in the White House.
      Keep visiting Pyramidion and share your thoughts with us.


  3. I think the Israeli Admin (past and present) are also well aware of this, impossible demands ensure ‘negotiations’ are always destined to go nowhere; it just gives them more time.

    Why would, or should the Palestinian Authority take any peace process seriously when the Israeli Admin(s) with their ongoing, systematic land grab, not to mention human rights abuses, have proven unequivocally that they don’t; all of which the US Admin appears powerless to stop. Who could possibly blame them for taking matters into their own hands?

    The Israeli Admin will continue to use protracted non-negotiations with the Palestinians for as long as it takes for settlers, endorsed by Benjamin Netanyahu and the US, protected by the IDF, to grab every last bit of Palestinian land; leaving no Palestinians left to actually negotiate with.


    1. I quite agree. Buying more time is the real strategic goal for this Zionist enclave.
      Grab a few square kilometres, give it a few years of dispute and building a couple of settlements, and it’s eventually new demograpgic changes … new realities on the ground … a wild negotiating card.


  4. Israel can’t draw borders because Israel is always expanding their borders! Therein lies the Zionist scam of EXPANSION. Once you draw your borders, then land theft is no longer an option. You are then held accountable to stay within your borders. Israel will no longer be able to steal Palestinian land if they draw their borders. Thats why Israel is always bleating about how the Palestinians won’t recognize their “right to exist”. Draw your borders Israel and I guarantee your “right to exist” will be recognized.


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