Recognition Redux: More Thoughts on an Israeli Demand

Recognition Redux: More Thoughts on an Israeli Demand

About a week ago I posted some thoughts on this blogcriticizing the Israeli government demand that Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  I received more comments on it than anything else I’ve posted, some of which appear under the blogpost and others that were sent to me directly.  They were fairly evenly divided between praise and criticism, but all the criticism came from friends who share my belief in a fair two state solution, including my friends Rob Eisen, Ralph Seliger, and Daveed Eden.

All three point out, with different emphases, that Israel’s connection to the Land of Israel is absolutely integral to its raison d’etre, and that it should be combined with a statement that recognizes the historical connection of both peoples to the land, and references the UN partition Resolution of 1947 as well. And there is no question that many Israelis of good will, but who trust Palestinians as little as Palestinians trust them, would be somewhat reassured by such a declaration.

The subject was in the news as well.  It was reported that the U.S. had accepted Israel’s contention that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state (not a surprise) but more interesting was a column in al-Monitor by Akiva Eldar, which referenced an International Crisis Group report, to which I’ve referred previously.  Eldar called attention to the part of the report that suggests settlers might accept a two state solution if Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish State.  He notes that
the ICG suggests that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO recognize Judaism’s historical connection to Palestine/the Land of Israel as the land of the three Abrahamic religions (as was done in the Palestinian proclamation of independence in 1988). In addition, the report recommends that the Palestinian leadership abstain from denying Jewish history, including the existence of the Temple Mount, and even be scrupulous in condemning such denial among its people.
Eldar, who, like me, tends to think of the demand as principally a (potentially insuperable) obstacle thrown up by opponents of a two-state solution, seems intrigued by the idea but unsure if it should be taken seriously, which I tend to agree with as well.
I would personally be happy, as well as surprised, if a formula could be found that would recognize the historical and national connection of both peoples to the same land, AND that would be acceptable to both Israel and the P.A. If U.S. pressure, mediation, or encouragement would help that to happen, that is fine.  But as an analyst, I simply can’t see it happening.  I see it as a deal-breaker.  And I suspect that a formulation that referred to the 1947 Partition Resolution  would be unacceptable to Netanyahu, let alone his partners in the current Israeli government, much of which does not even accept the principle of two states.  But see a recent J-Street statement that expresses hope that such a formulation can be found. 

I am particularly intrigued by the idea of Jewish religious (i.e., settler) objections to two states being overcome by Palestinian recognition of the Jewish connection, but I have yet to see a political expression of that position.  And I note that none of those who criticized my views took on my argument that if Palestinians would break a pledge for peace, why would they hesitate to break a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state?
I have long felt that what I’ve called the “intangible issues” very much trump the tangible ones on both sides.  In other words, borders, security stipulations, and settlements are ultimately less important to both peoples than recognition of a Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem by Palestinians, and acknowledgement of a Jewish role in Palestinian suffering in the Nakba (and, of course there was a Nakba, which for Jews was a War of Independence).  The demand for “recognition” is similar but it is often formulated in a way that Palestinians can hardly but understand it as contradicting, and thus negating, their own fundamental narrative that ties them to the land.  A Palestinian view of this, which I think represents the Palestinian mainstream, is here.
So I have a challenge for those Israelis or other Jews who genuinely want assurances that both sides recognize each other’s historical, legal, and other claims to the land.  Start a dialogue with Palestinians and try to find a formulation that you can agree on.  And the challenge is equally extended to Palestinians who are interested in such a dialogue with Jews or Israelis with those beliefs.  Prove my skepticism wrong.   You can find some suggestions in the ICG report referenced above.  I’ll be happy to put people in contact with each other.

But barring such a demonstration of goodwill on both sides, I don’t see it happening, for reasons I expressed in my previous posting.  It cuts too close to the ideologies of both sides, which are among both peoples’ most treasured legends.  And family legends generally don’t fare well when exposed outside the family for validation. 

By | 2013-12-22T21:05:00-05:00 December 22nd, 2013|Blog|11 Comments


  1. Jerry Haber December 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Asking the Palestinians to recognize Jewish rights or claims to a state in Palestine — and making that a sine qua non of peace — is like asking Jews to recognize the Jesus as messiah.

    On the other hand, I see no reason why Palestinians wouldn’t recognize that Jews throughout the ages have looked to Palestine as a land promised them by God, and many have prayed for a return to that land. As a Jew, I certainly can recognize the importance of Jesus for Christians.

    Ditto for Haram al-Sharif, and the Western Wall.

    The Israeli demand that Palestinians become Zionists — accept the right to exist of a Jewish state is deeply offensive, and says a lot about the psychology of the people making the claim. The rapist wants to be legitimized by his victim and not thought a rapist. But tell that to the victim.

    As Jerry Segal recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, the 1988 Palestinian acceptance of partition into a Jewish and Arab state should be enough. Remember, the right of the Jews to a state in Palestine as not, to my knowledge, been acknowledged in any forum, and it certainly is not mentioned explicitly in the 1947 partition plan.

  2. warren December 23, 2013 at 2:57 am - Reply

    Paul, you are right in pointing out Israel’s connection to the land is integral to its raison d’etre. However, you seem to be saying that Palestinians also have equal historical and biblical claims to the land. This is not true. While Israel’s claims are based on a 4,000 year old history that included Kings starting with King Saul, there is nothing in history to suggest the Palestinians have any history. Even the name Palestine was a Roman invention 2,000 years ago, calling the land after the Mediterranean people known as Philistines (remember David downing the Philistine Goliath with his slingshot?). The name Palestinians applied to Arabs, came into existence in 1964. There was never a Palestinian people, a government, institutions, currency, etc. In fact, the vast majority of the people who call themselves Palestinians are descendants of Arabs who migrated into the land in the 1930s from neighboring Arab nations. The British, who controlled the land, could not even count the huge numbers of such immigrants. Today’s Palestinians, by and large, are thus not indigenous to the land.
    Palestinians claim to Jerusalem is specious. Jerusalem has never been part of the history of these people and it is not mentioned once in the Koran, but hundreds of times in both the Christian and Jewish Bibles.
    You may not like what I am about to say, and indeed, I am not happy to say it, but to me there is only one solution to the conflict – re-settlement of Palestinians to Jordan with assistance from the world community. Jordan is currently 60% Arabs and came into existence when the British carved out the country from what was then TransJordan and includes a small number of Arabs who fled the fighting in 1948. An independent state of Palestine is nearly impossible given the history of the land, the conflict, the ideological differences and the gnawing question whether any peace agreement with the Palestinians could be trusted. Heck, look at what is going on in the Arab world today. Bloodshed all over the place and prior agreements mean nothing. How is Israel expected to trust an agreement with an Arab entity when even Arab entities cannot trust one another?

  3. daveed in Princeton December 23, 2013 at 3:20 am - Reply

    One of the things I learned living in Israel since I was a teenager, was that Israelis will refuse to do anything about which it can be claimed that they are being a “freier” – the closest term in English that I can find is a “dupe”. And the Palestinians, with their history and tradition of haggling in the shuk, to pay the lowest possible price when they are the client, or to make the highest possible profit when they are the vendor, are pretty much the same. The one thing that cuts through this attitude is when one feels that the other side is making a “gesta”, a magnanimous gesture, that allows you to feel that you are not only not being taken advantage of, but that your opponent in the negotiation is, in fact, your partner in making the deal.
    So, how do you make these two intractable enemies become partners in peacemaking? I believe that both sides have legitimate claims, and that both sides view any concession not as a compromise, but as a loss. Making the case for mutuality is the best way for both sides to “save face”, and avoid the need for a single winner, and a single loser. Especially when having a single winner would result in a continuing rejection by those extremists on either side who oppose a compromise.
    So, when you issue a challenge to Israelis who want assurances that both sides recognize each other’s historical, legal, and other claims to the land to start a dialogue with Palestinians to try to find a formulation, I have to ask why you dismiss the decades of efforts by Israelis like Victor Shem-Tov, Loba Eliav, Elazar Granot, Hillel Schenker, and countless others, who did just that? They proclaimed as loudly as they could, both at home and to the world, that peace and compromise between Israel and the Palestinians could only be reached through both sides recognizing the mutual right of self-determination of both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples.
    When Yitzhak Rabin led Israel in the days when the Oslo Accords were being implemented, neither side felt it was a loser. The ones who felt like losers were the opponents of compromise, the settlers and their supporters, and Hamas and its supporters. Their actions, combined with the fears and anger of the populations on both sides, were what ended the viability of the Oslo Accords. The leaders who took advantage of these fears, and rode them into power, remain in positions of power. And are the ones who are not allowing trust and belief in a peaceful future to take root. Because they won’t make the “gesta” to the other side. Because they refuse to be seen as a “freier”.

  4. Ralph Seliger December 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    I’d like to make my position crystal clear: It’s wrong and a shame for parties to this conflict to obstruct a possible agreement by making the other side’s acceptance of their history an insurmountable demand, but it would help the weaker side (the Palestinians) if they could finesse or side-step Israel’s “recognize the Jewish state” position by explicitly accepting UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which endorsed the Palestine Mandate’s partition into separate Jewish and Arab states. This implies that the Palestinian struggle to destroy the Jewish state was a mistake and is at an end.

    Israel should not rub their noses in their defeat, but how could the Palestinians expect concessions from the stronger side if not coming to terms with this fact? As per Jerry Haber’s sharply pointed comment, this would not make the Palestinians “Zionists,” but it wold make them realists.

  5. warren December 23, 2013 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    I do not understand where Daveed is coming from. There is an old saying that if one ignores history, one is doomed to make the same mistakes. So when one wants to make two intractable enemies become partners in peacemaking, one needs to review history. Additionally, it is wrong to state that both sides have equal claims to the land, as I pointed out in a previous posting. The present day Palestinians have NO legitimate claim to the land. That is HISTORY. Might as well add that perhaps one reason why they want eastern Jerusalem as their capitol is because it contains the two most holy sites to Judaism and to Christianity.
    Additional History: There have been four attempts at a two state solution – 1) the League of Nations in 1922; 2) the U.N. Partition plan in 1947; 3) the Oslo process in which the Palestinians were offered 94% of the West bank and eastern Jerusalem; and 4) when Ohmert was P.M. and made pretty much the same offer. What will it take to realize that no matter the protestations and the negotiations, the Palestinians have squandered every opportunity to settle the conflict. What more should Israel do? Israel was willing to make these concessions, but the Palestinians were not. Why? Perhaps one reason is Islamic ideology which so many refuse to even consider and a second reason being the continuing goal of the Palestinians not only to not accept a Jewish state, but to demonize it before the world community as a way of eliminating it. Remember, the Islamic ideology doctrine is that Islam replaces both Christianity and Judaism. Can anyone deny this doctrine? It is an affront to Islam to accept a Jewish state that is demonstrably superior to Islam in freedom, standard of living, democracy, accomplishments, etc. For if it does, the doctrine is wrong, and in Islam, how can this be?
    So before trying to analyze why no peace, perhaps analyze the genesis of the conflict realistically.

  6. DrMike December 23, 2013 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    Through the years, there has been a problem with statements that “imply” one thing to one party but are immediately interpreted by the other party as saying something quite different. Look at the “recognition” of Israel by the PLO in 1988. We all understand the goal– that an agreement explicitly state that it provides the end of Palestinian territorial designs on Israel, and the end of Israeli territorial designs on Palestine. Or, as Yossi Klein Halevi put it, the Jews will give up our “right of return” to Hebron in exchange for the Palestinians giving up their “right of return” to Haifa and Jaffa.
    The Palestinians don’t have to sing Hatikvah. They do have do admit that the state of Israel, in which the Jewish people express their national self-determination, is legitimate and they will live next to it as peaceful neighbors. And they have to do it in Arabic, to their people, just like Israel will have to admit–in Hebrew, to its people– that a state of Palestine, in which the Palestinian people as they choose to recognize themselves, is legitimate and they will live next to it as peaceful neighbors. No “implying” anything, not a message in one language to the West and a different message to their own people.

  7. Paul L. Scham December 24, 2013 at 1:57 am - Reply

    For those who, like Warren, don’t understand why “the Arabs” “refused” a 2-state solution, I strongly recommend an article by my friend Natasha Gill, “Why the Arabs Said No” at

    Not that I expect it will convince you, but it may provide some insight. BTW, Warren,, you left out the Arabs’ rejection of the first (Peel Commission) partition plan in 1937.

  8. Robert Eisen December 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Paul, if the mutual recognition of historical claims to the land on BOTH sides is a deal-breaker, then I don’t believe the negotiations will go anywhere. Even if an agreement is signed, you can be sure that there will be war some time in the near future because the simmering resentments will remain. Palestinians will eventually arm themselves to reclaim what was lost and Israelis will respond in kind.

    I think it’s also important to emphasize that both sides feel EQUALLY strong about their historical claims, and that neither side can demand the recognition of their claim without offering the same to the other side. Thus, Jerry Haber’s analogy of rape on the Palestinian side completely misses this point. It’s not just Palestinians who feel like they’ve been “raped”, it’s also the Jews. (In fact, they’ve been raped for 2000 years–which includes the time they lived as second-class citizens in Arab and Muslim countries).

    And if you argue that it’s not true, that the Jewish perception is wrong–well then, you can argue that the Palestinian perception is wrong too. In other words, each side has its own perception of the conflict, and each of these perceptions has elements of truth and falsehood in them.

    So maybe the real thing is to focus on here is education on both sides. Both sides need to learn about–and respect–the history of the other and the perceptions of the other. That needs to precede or be part of any peace agreement. And until that happens, you can sign all the agreements you want–there will never be peace.

  9. Paul L. Scham December 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    I absolutely agree that both sides feel equally passionately about their attachment to the land – which is why my own strong preference is that that not be part of a peace treaty. You can legitimately promise peace; you cannot promise respect. No one has yet shown why promises of respect are somehow more believable than promises of peace.
    Moreover, the Israeli (and your)insistence on reconciliation before peace is unrealistic and itself makes peace unlikely. I don’t know whether Palestinians will ever be friendly toward Israel and put aside their historic grudge, but I am quite sure that it will not happen while the occupation is ongoing. That is unlikely (to put it mildly) and unprecedented (can you cite an example?). Peace is a political decision; making it contingent on a subjective “recognition” is unrealistic and unnecessary.

  10. Warren December 24, 2013 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    First of all, thank you Paul for making this forum possible. It is refreshing to be able to read viewpoints of many wanting peace in the Middle East as much as do you and I.
    Have to say, “that promises of respect that are more believable than promises of peace”, mean nothing. Only action means something. So far, the Palestinians have continued to engage in hostile actions against Israel, such as BDS, honoring terrorists who killed Israelis, continuing incitement to violence in PA TV, radio, mosques and schools. Recognition has to mean something and the only way to prove honest intent is cessation of the very actions that cause mistrust. Do you disagree with this?
    And yes, the Peel Commission did suggest still another possible partition plan and like the other four, this partition plan was rejected by the Arabs. It escapes me why so many cannot accept that it is the Arabs (and now the Palestinians), NOT the Jews (Israel) who are responsible for no resolution of the conflict. I suggest that people examine and understand why this has been so. Arabs then as now, are afraid of a Jewish state, both for religious reasons and for cultural reasons. As stated in the Commission Report: “The continued impact of a highly intelligent and enterprising race, backed by large financial resources, on a comparatively poor indigenous community, on a different cultural level, may produce in time serious reactions.” At that time, there was no large financial means available like recently from Saudi Arabia with its huge oil revenue to assist the development of a separate Arab state. Examine the Islamic ideology which will not accept a non-muslim state in what they consider to be their area, even if Saudi money, for example, would be made available. I challenge anyone to disagree with this evaluation.
    And, Paul, I just do not understand how you can say that: “The Palestinians will ever be friendly toward Israel and put aside their historic grudge, but I am quite sure that it will not happen while the occupation is ongoing.” What historic grudge? What occupation? This is the propaganda ploy being used by the Palestinians and does not help the peace process. Please, please re-read my previous comments on the genesis of the conflict. And as for “occupation”, well, as you know, most “settlements” were Jewish communities for centuries. So how can Jews/Israel be accused of being “occupiers” when they recovered Jewish communities on land that was captured and destroyed by the Jordanians during the 1948 War. Jews returned and resettled those communities. Sure there are some that were not centuries old, but lets be reasonable and acknowledge what are TRUTHS. The Christian and Jewish Bibles mention the names of towns in the West Bank hundreds of times. Hebron has had a Jewish community since the days of Abraham, except for the period 1948 – 1967. Should the Jewish community of Hebron today be considered to be on “occupied” land? I believe the Gush Etzion bloc was established early in the 20th century before there was even a Palestinian people. The Gospel of Marks recounts Jesus’ feeding of a crowd of people with just a few fish at Dalmanutha. According to archaeological findings, Dalmanutha was on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. Should this be considered “occupied land”? I sure would like some comment on all this.
    And again, thanks for making this discussion possible.

  11. Edward Goldstein January 4, 2014 at 12:17 am - Reply

    The article in MEPC (Middle East Policy Council) to which Paul Scham provides a link is a must-read! It takes us off the foundation of our pro-Israel stance — namely, the premise that it was bad of the Palestinians to reject Partition — and puts us in their place. It also enables an understanding of why Netanyahu’s demand (new with him in all the years of peacemaking)for Jewish State recognition is a problem. We seek peace with a people whom many Jews find it easier to demonize than with whom to empathize. What if enabling a truly sovereign, viable Palestinian State is not a “concession” but a debt, payment on which we owe them? What if, in a particular situation, despite Jewish history, we are not the victims but the victimizers? Understanding the desperation of Jews in 1947-1950 and what it led them to do, what if in the years since we have utterly failed to internalize, as Yitzhak Rabin did and Peter Beinart reminds us, that the challenge of Jewish life today is not how to overcome Jewish powerlessness but, rather, how to use Jewish power?

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