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Facing Mecca

Must a Native-American recognize the right of the United States of America to exist?

Interesting question. The USA was established by Europeans who invaded a continent that did not belong to them, eradicated most of the indigenous population (the “Red Indians”) in a prolonged campaign of genocide, and exploited the labor of millions of slaves who had been brutally torn from their lives in Africa. Not to mention what is going on today. Must a Native-American–or indeed anybody at all–recognize the right of such a state to exist?

But nobody raises the question. The United States does not give a damn if anybody recognizes its right to exist or not. It does not demand this from the countries with which it maintains relations.

Why? Because this is a ridiculous demand to start with.

OK, the United States is older than the State of Israel, as well as bigger and more powerful. But countries that are not super-powers do not demand this either. India, for example, is not expected to recognize Pakistan’s “right to exist”, in spite of the fact that Pakistan was established at the same time as Israel, and–like Israel–on an ethnic/religious basis.

* * *

SO WHY is Hamas required to “recognize Israel’s right to exist”?

When a state “recognizes” another state, it is a formal recognition, the acknowledgement of an existing fact. It does not imply approval. The Soviet Union was not required to recognize the existence of the USA as a capitalist state. On the contrary, Nikita Khrushchev promised in 1956 to “bury” it. The US certainly did not dream of recognizing at any time the right of the Soviet Union to exist as a communist state.

So why is this weird demand addressed to the Palestinians? Why must they recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State?

I am an Israeli patriot, and I do not feel that I need anybody’s recognition of the right of my state to exist. If somebody is ready to make peace with me, within borders and on conditions agreed upon in negotiations, that is quite enough for me. I am prepared to leave the history, ideology and theology of the matter to the theologians, ideologues and historians.

Perhaps after 60 years of the existence of Israel, and after we have become a regional power, we are still so unsure of ourselves that we crave for constant assurance of our right to exist–and of all people, from those that we have been oppressing for the last 40 years. Perhaps it is the mentality of the Ghetto that is still so deeply ingrained in us.

But the demand addressed now to the Palestinian Unity Government is far from sincere. It has an ulterior political aim, indeed two: (a) to convince the international community not to recognize the Palestinian government that is about to be set up, and (b) to justify the refusal of the Israeli government to enter into peace negotiations with it.

The British call this a “red herring”–a smelly fish that a fugitive drags across the path in order to put the pursuing dogs off the trail.

* * *

WHEN I was young, Jewish people in Palestine used to talk about our secret weapon: the Arab refusal. Every time somebody proposed some peace plan, we relied on the Arab side to say “no”. True, the Zionist leadership was against any compromise that would have frozen the existing situation and halted the momentum of the Zionist enterprise of expansion and settlement. But the Zionist leaders used to say “yes” and “we extend our hand for peace”–and rely on the Arabs to scuttle the proposal.

That was successful for a hundred years, until Yasser Arafat changed the rules, recognized Israel and signed the Oslo Accords, which stipulated that the negotiations for the final borders between Israel and Palestine must be concluded not later than 1999. To this very day, those negotiations have not even started. Successive Israeli governments have prevented it because they were not ready under any circumstances to fix final borders. (The 2000 Camp David meeting was not a real negotiation–Ehud Barak convened it without any preparation, dictated his terms to the Palestinians and broke the dialogue off when they were refused.)

* * *

After the death of Arafat, the refusal became more and more difficult. Arafat was always described as a terrorist, cheat and liar. But Mahmoud Abbas was accepted by everybody as an honest person, who truly wanted to achieve peace. Yet Ariel Sharon succeeded in avoiding any negotiations with him. The “Unilateral Separation” served this end. President Bush supported him with both hands.

Well, Sharon suffered his stroke, and Ehud Olmert took his place. And then something happened that caused great joy in Jerusalem: the Palestinians elected Hamas.

How wonderful! After all, both the US and Europe have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization! Hamas is a part of the Shiite Axis of Evil! (They are not Shiites, but who cares!) Hamas does not recognize Israel! Hamas is trying to eliminate Mahmoud Abbas, the noble man of peace! It is clear that with such a gang there is no need, nor would it make any sense, to conduct negotiations about peace and borders.

And indeed, the US and their European satellites are boycotting the Palestinian government and starving the Palestinian population. They have set three conditions for lifting the blockade:

(a) that the Palestinian government and Hamas must recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist,

(b) they must stop “terrorism”, and

(c) they must undertake to fulfill the agreements signed by the PLO.

On the face of it, that makes sense. In reality, none at all. Because all these conditions are completely one-sided:

a) the Palestinians must recognize the right of Israel to exist (without defining its borders, of course), but the Israeli government is not required to recognize the right of a Palestinian state to exist at all.

(b) The Palestinians must put an end to “terrorism”, but the Israeli government is not required to stop its military operations in the Palestinian territories and stop the building of settlements. The “roadmap” does indeed say so, but that has been completely ignored by everybody, including the Americans.

(c) The Palestinians must undertake to fulfill the agreements, but no such undertaking is required from the Israeli government, which has broken almost all provision of the Oslo agreement. Among others: the opening of the “safe passages” between Gaza and the West Bank, the carrying out of the third “redeployment” (withdrawal from Palestinian territories), the treatment of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one single territory, etc. etc.

Since Hamas came to power, its leaders have understood the need to become more flexible. They are very sensitive to the mood of their people. The Palestinian population is longing for an end to the occupation and for a life of peace. Therefore, step by step, Hamas has come nearer to recognition of Israel. Their religious doctrine does not allow them to declare this publicly (Jewish fundamentalists too cling to the word of God “To your seed I have given this land”) but it has been doing so indirectly. Little steps, but a big revolution.

Hamas has announced its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state bounded by the June 1967 borders–meaning: next to Israel and not in place of Israel. (This week, ex-minister Kadura Fares repeated that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal has confirmed this.) Hamas has given Mahmoud Abbas a power of attorney to conduct the negotiations with Israel and has undertaken in advance to accept any agreement ratified in a referendum. Abbas, of course, clearly advocates the setting up of a Palestinian state next to Israel, across the Green Line. There is no doubt whatsoever that if such an agreement is achieved, the huge majority of the Palestinian population will vote for it.

In Jerusalem, worry has set in. If this goes on, the world might even get the impression that Hamas has changed, and then–God forbid–lift the economic blockade on the Palestinian people.

Now the King of Saudi Arabia comes and disturbs Olmert’s plans even more.

In an impressive event, facing the holiest site of Islam, the king put an end to the bloody strife between the Palestinian security organs and prepared the ground for a Palestinian government of national unity. Hamas undertook to respect the agreements signed by the PLO, including the Oslo agreement, which is based on the mutual recognition of the State of Israel and the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people.

The king has extracted the Palestinian issue from the embrace of Iran, to which Hamas had turned because it had no alternative, and has returned Hamas to the lap of the Sunni family. Since Saudi Arabia is the main ally of the US in the Arab world, the king has put the Palestinian issue firmly on the table of the Oval Room.

In Jerusalem, near panic broke out. This is the scariest of nightmares: the fear that the unconditional support of the US and Europe for Israeli policy will be reconsidered.

The panic had immediate results: “political circles” in Jerusalem announced that they rejected the Mecca agreement out of hand. Then second thoughts set in. Shimon Peres, long established master of the “yes-but-no” method, convinced Olmert that the brazen “no” must be replaced with a more subtle “no”. For this purpose, the red herring was again taken out of the freezer.

It is not enough that Hamas recognize Israel in practice. Israel insists that its “right to exist” must also be recognized. Political recognition does not suffice, ideological recognition is required. By this logic, one could also demand that Khaled Mashal join the Zionist organization.

* * *

If one thinks that peace is more important for Israel than expansion and settlements, one must welcome the change in the position of Hamas–as expressed in the Mecca agreement–and encourage it to continue along this road. The king of Saudi Arabia, who has already convinced the leaders of all Arab countries to recognize Israel in exchange for the establishment of the state of Palestine across the Green Line, should be warmly congratulated.

But if one opposes peace because it would fix the final borders of Israel and allow for no more expansion, one will do everything to convince the Americans and Europeans to continue with the boycott on the Palestinian government and the blockade of the Palestinian people.

* * *

The day after tomorrow, Condoleezza Rice will convene a meeting of Olmert and Abbas in Jerusalem.

The Americans now have a problem. On one side, they need the Saudi king. Not only does he sit on huge oil reservoirs, but he is also the center-piece of the “moderate Sunni bloc”. If the king tells Bush that the solution of the Palestinian problem is needed in order to dam the spread of Iranian influence across the Middle East, his words will carry a lot of weight. If Bush is planning a military attack on Iran, as it seems he is, it is important for him to have the united support of the Sunnis.

On the other side, the pro-Israel lobby–both Jewish and Christian–is very important for Bush. It is vital for him to be able to count on the “Christian base” of the Republican Party, which is composed of fundamentalists who support the extreme Right in Israel, come what may.

So what is to be done? Nothing. For this nothing, Condi found an apt diplomatic slogan, taken from up-to-date American slang: “New Political Horizons”.

Clearly, she did not ponder on the meaning of these words. Because the horizon is the symbol of a goal that will never be reached: the more you approach it, the more it recedes.


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URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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