Recognition Is at the Core

We will know that real progress is being made on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the Arab world explicitly states that it “recognizes” Israel. This concept of state recognition is at the core of the difficulty between these two sides, and I have the feeling that Arab countries choke on the word “recognition” so badly that they just can’t cough it up. In fact, it makes even little sense to negotiate and work to solve problems without such recognition. But it is the official recognition that holds the symbolic value and is more important than the practical outcomes of negotiation.

In a speech at Bar Ilan University Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu pointed to the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the home of the Jewish people as at the core of the Middle East conflict. It really is an excellent speech and I highly recommend it. Some countries recognize Israel from a purely political perspective but not as a Jewish state. There is, of course, a storm of anti-Semitism that accompanies this lack of recognition but my concern here is with more official explanations; that is, with the sources and documents typically used to prop up the objections to recognition. First, let’s take a quick look at what is meant by recognition in international law. These criteria are quite straightforward and easily applicable to Israel:

1. A permanent population that exist together and compose the people of the nation.

2. Territory or a parcel of land that the permanent population lives on. This land must be defined by boundaries and territories.

3. A government or a functioning political system that constitutes the law of the land.

4. The capacity to enter into relations with other states.

These are the criteria for recognition by international law but some states get around these criteria and maintain nonrecognition by the Stimson doctrine which is to withdraw recognition to any new entity that comes into being as a result of illegal actions or force. And of course some Arab states claim this applies directly to Israel because they came into being illegally through the United Nations and as a result of war. On one hand the United Nations is the epitome of official recognition, but many in the Arab world consider the United Nations to be in a position to sanction anything. The definition of illegal actions can be ambiguous. The United Nations resolution 242 was used in the aftermath of the six day war in 1967 and it was agreed to by Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. Israel agreed that it should promote a lasting peace and a peaceful resolution. But the details of this resolution remain murky and there is still confusion over language.

Recognition is a difficult process especially deep and symbolic recognition which is the most important type of recognition. Simple recognition of the state, which means such a state is suitable for routine contact and trade, is easy enough. But recognizing the deeper aspects of a political culture and its legitimate ties to land in history is another matter that requires greater respect and understanding. And, of course, the more the surrounding nations recognize Israel as a Jewish state with a legitimate claim to the land the more they drain their own claims of exclusivity. For example, many in the Muslim world hold the following:

1. Judaism was superseded by Christianity and later by Islam.

2. Jews are not a nation but a religion.

3. Recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” would question Islam’s claim to be a superior revealed authority.

4. The land the Jews are inhabiting is part of Islamic holy land and can never be associated with another group.

It will be a long time before a collection of Arab leaders stands up and states to the world that it “recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.” This failure of recognition includes a rejection of Jewish prayer, history as well as cultural artifacts. This is dangerous and potentially the “stuff” of anti-Semitism.


Posted on October 14, 2013, in Israel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. (Tongue in cheek) – I know what Israel is, but what exactly is a “Jewish State”? There are more nuances in that term than there are in “Fifty Shades of Gray”, and frankly, as a “confessed Zionist” living in Israel, I would have trouble identifying with all the permutations.

    How about making “What is a Jewish State” the subject of a forthcoming blog, and see how people respond?

    Incidentally, I do not recall our political leaders requiring that component of recognition (ISRAEL IS A JEWISH STATE) when we made peace with Egypt or with Jordan, so why cram this down the throats of the Palestinian Authority now? Abbas has publicly recognized the State of Israel – implicitly and historically and legally is a Jewish homeland. I get the feeling that Bibi’s demand is that of a bully trying to subjugate the opponent just for the sake of control, rather than to allow for an honorable “out” for the other side. You and others have written about the need to take cultural issues into account when negotiating conflict, so why not apply that here?

  2. Good idea about the blog post devoted to the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. I will work on it and produce something within the next couple of weeks. For now, I’m afraid we’re going to have to disagree because the entire Zionist project makes little sense if Israel is not Jewish. Now I know the definition of “Jewish” is the difficult issue and there are so many nuances we will never solve it. But I still think it is possible to recognize the state is “Jewish.” More later.

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