Diplomatic recognition for Palestine? by Israel?

I’ve noted the Palestinian pursuit of diplomatic recognition hereMichael Totten links to and echoes Barry Rubin’s dismissive piece on the peace process in 2011, which also contends that the Palestinian Authority’s search for diplomatic recognition violates the 1993 Oslo Accords.

And then this one comes out of left field. Aluf Benn writes in Haaretz:

There remains only the Palestinian question, which is bothering Netanyahu and threatening to erupt in the summer. The prime minister is looking for a way to outflank PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as the latter travels the world collecting supporters for a declaration of independence. The government is increasingly inclined to realize that an Israeli policy initiative is needed that will halt the erosion in foreign relations.

The emerging solution is to “upgrade the PA” – an idea that was put forward some years ago by the Reut Institute for Policy Planning: recognizing a Palestinian state within the existing borders of the Oslo Accords. Israel would thus rid itself of the demographic menace and of the threats of a “collapse of the PA” and a binational state. The Palestinians would gain independence, but would not get one more millimeter of land without recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and agreeing to the end of the conflict. This idea has the support of Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon and also has broad backing within the ministerial forum of seven.

If the Palestinians respond negatively, as is their wont, Netanyahu will have irrefutable proof that Israel does not have a partner for peace. And if they take everyone by surprise and agree, Abbas will obtain a seat in the United Nations, Obama will justify his Nobel Peace Prize and Netanyahu will be perceived as the magician who succeeded in breaching Israel’s isolation without forgoing anything. Maybe that’s the surprise he is planning for the next hundred days – one that will give him a place of honor in the new, unstable world.

On a side note, Michael Totten’s post, mentioned above, starts out by quoting another peace process skeptic, Rick Richman:

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

Richman’s article is a good review of some of the history, with some of the perspective coming from a piece by revisionist Israeli historian Benny Morris, who has been a prominent critic of the treatment of Palestinian Arabs by the Israelis in 1948-49.

But Richman’s framing of the issue, while containing some important truths, is way too easy.  Couldn’t it just as easily have been said that we are now in the 92nd year of a peace process where the Palestinians are one of the few peoples in history to have immigrants come to their land, demand and achieve a sovereign state for themselves, and expect the original inhabitants to agree to it? That would oversimplify things too much as well, eliding the Jewish connection to the land over the millennia and the good arguments for having a Jewish state.  But I don’t think that my summary is much less accurate than Richman’s. The Palestinians have made many mistakes, and as Morris implies, they should have shared Palestine somehow. That’s easy to say in hindsight, but a lot of peoples would have resisted if they were in the Palestinians’ shoes.

Hat tip for Aluf Benn article: Jeff Goldberg

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12 thoughts on “Diplomatic recognition for Palestine? by Israel?

  1. Hi Scott – I have a few comments on your alternative narrative that the Palestinians could be considered “one of the few peoples in history to have immigrants come to their land, demand and achieve a sovereign state for themselves, and expect the original inhabitants to agree to it.”

    A commenter named “AJB” left a comment at Robin Sheperd Online yesterday that states the case even more directly: “Say, you wouldn’t mind if I just barge into your home, kick you out, and ‘settle’ it; would you?”

    But there is both a historical and moral problem in phrasing the issue in that fashion. The “original inhabitants” – both in terms of time and in terms of the only people with a national entity that ever existed on the Land, were the Jews. They are not “immigrants” barging into someone else’s “home” but rather returning to their original home and nevertheless offering to share it with those who came after them and live there now. There is room for both.

    From a historical standpoint, no one claims that the southwest part of the United States must be given back to Mexico, and Jimmy Carter has never felt compelled to give his Georgia farm back to the Native Americans who held the land before he arrived. In his latest book – “White House Diaries” – he repeatedly notes how much he enjoys searching the land for arrowheads, apparently oblivious of what his collection represents in terms of his historical and moral right to be there doing that. He is collecting the artifacts of those who were wiped out from his land; one wonders if he would agree at least to share it with them.

    The Jews have a valid claim to the entire West Bank as part of Eretz Israel – a claim as old as several thousand years ago and as recent as the League of Nations Mandate of 1922, which allocated it to them for their homeland after the prior owner (the Ottoman Empire) was defeated in World War I. That document remains the basic modern legal document, making Jews not “immigrants” coming to someone else’s land, but returning to their own. They have no moral or historical responsibility for any of the Palestinian refugees, since there would not have been a single refugee had the Arabs not tried in 1948 to destroy Israel — and tried again in 1967.

    And it is in fact unique to be offered a state seven times when one never was offered one by the Ottoman Empire, or Jordan and Egypt, and then refuse it seven times in favor of new wars, and then think there is a right to an eighth one, much less set preconditions for talking about it.

    Thanks for your interesting comment, and the right to respond.

    1. Again, thanks for your comments, Rick and Kevin. My alternate narrative was purposely simplistic. I agree that the Jews have a connection to the land that does not make them simply immigrants. The question is about the validity of the claim, both in the early 20th century and now.

      In the late-19th/early 20th century, it’s tough for me to say. On the one hand, there had not been a Jewish state there since about 133 AD, if my understanding is correct. Saying that there hadn’t been a Palestinian state there doesn’t change the fact that there was a Palestinian community under Ottoman rule, presumably with local authorities that answered to the Ottomans. And this is where the analogy about giving back the Southwest to Mexico actually works against your point, Rick. That’s exactly what the Jewish immigrants were asking the people there to do: give us back the land that was taken from us.

      Now if the Jews have a God-given right to the land that was still operative in the late 19th/early 20th century and today, then nothing in that last paragraph matters. This is a tough one for me as an evangelical Christian. Are God’s promises of the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob meant to apply to the Jews today (as a dispensational interpretation holds) or are the promises of God to Israel now for Christians (including Jews who believe in Christ) as he has brought us into his covenant community (so the issue is not the land)?

      Before I go on, let me state some things:
      1. I recognize that Christians have mistreated Jews often in the last 2000 years. If the second interpretation of God’s promises is true, it does not justify anti-Semitism even though it has been used as an excuse for that.
      2. I recognize that Jews in the late 19th/early 20th centuries were being treated very badly in Europe. It’s no wonder that the Zionist movement formed and grew at this time.
      3. Even if the political and theological objections above disprove the validity of the Jewish claim to the land in the late 19th/early 20th century, I’m glad that there is a Jewish state in Israel. I wish that it had happened in a different way, that Jews and Palestinians had more empathy for each other for the last 100 years. Countries usually come about in messy ways, and I don’t want Israel to be abolished. I just don’t think that the Palestinians bear the entire blame for their situation.

      So my question is this: Put another group of people in place of the Palestinians circa 1900. Would they have seen the Jewish claim any differently? To me, it would be hard to convince any occupants that they land that they lived on was actually someone else’s and they needed to share it with people who hadn’t controlled it in about 1700 years.

      I’m trying to honestly grapple with this, and I’m happy to have any errors pointed out.

  2. Scott’s quote of Rick cracked me up. Rick also beat me to posting a rebuttal (welcome, Rick!), but since I already wrote it, here’s my take:

    Scott wrote: “Couldn’t it just as easily have been said that we are now in the 92nd year of a peace process where the Palestinians are one of the few peoples in history to have immigrants come to their land, demand and achieve a sovereign state for themselves, and expect the original inhabitants to agree to it?

    Is that uncommon? Or do you mean it’s uncommon that the Jews did not conquer the land by force but rather through international consensus by the League of Nations and later the UN? If so, that also brings into question the appropriateness of the term “their land” if those institutions had that authority.

    As an aside, it would be disconcertingly ironic if conquering by force attains a better track record for peaceful resolution than international consensus in establishing a sovereign nation.

    Aluf Benn’s theory of statehood seems to be based on political posturing, making it sound fun and plausible except that I don’t really know the practical implications of recognizing the West Bank (presumably not Gaza) as a Palestinian state.

    1. Kevin, I don’t think that it is particularly common. Can you give parallel examples? You’re right that the international consensus makes it different than conquest, although there was also the buying of Arab lands that had been sold to absentee landlords and evicting the residents so that Jews could live and work there (definitely NOT conquest but also not an international agreement). I think that part of the problem was that the Zionists didn’t seem to think that the Palestinian Arabs had much of a right to the land. It’s all part of the messiness of the situation, and Israel is hardly the only country that’s had this messiness.

      You’re right about the political posturing in Benn’s article. I was struck by it too. I wonder if it will come to pass.

      1. What are the unique (uncommon) parts of your description that I should try to find parallel examples for? Immigration? Achieving a sovereign state? Expecting the original inhabitants to agree?

        The unique parts that I read into your description actually makes Israel far less objectionable than other examples (e.g. the international consensus vs. violent conquest), but that doesn’t support your flipping of Rick’s phrase into an equivalent Palestinian grievance, so I suspect I’m missing your point.

        Scott wrote: “I think that part of the problem was that the Zionists didn’t seem to think that the Palestinian Arabs had much of a right to the land.

        You may be right (I don’t find ancient claims that compelling either), but your example of buying the land and evicting tenants seems like the right outlet for their belief, don’t you think? It is modern conquest through voluntary transfers of ownership. It certainly sucks for tenants who are evicted but it’s not their land.

  3. Rick and Kevin, thanks for your comments. I plan to get back to you tonight. I’m looking forward to our conversation!

    Scott

  4. Kevin wrote: What are the unique (uncommon) parts of your description that I should try to find parallel examples for? Immigration? Achieving a sovereign state? Expecting the original inhabitants to agree?

    I think it’s the combination of those things that makes it unique.

    I think that the evictions that the Zionists used were certainly better than conquest. But people who wanted their own land might have been more sensitive to the people who had lived there for centuries. But of course contests over land usually haven’t been notable for their sensitivity.

    1. I’m sorry, I’m not communicating well — I guess my question is, what sovereign state doesn’t meet that combination of criteria?

      Take the US for example: people immigrated to a land, they achieved a sovereign state, and they expected the original inhabitants to agree.

      More generally:

      (1) How do you create a sovereign state without someone first immigrating there?

      (2) How do you keep a sovereign state without expecting everyone (including the original inhabitants) to agree?

      I’m sorry if it is obvious, but surely I’m missing something.

  5. No, you might have just gotten me on this one. I might be falling into the trap that Israel was founded 50 years ago by some of the same methods that countries were hundreds or thousands of years before, when people were less sensitive about human rights.

    One thing that I might say is that Israel has existed in the era of more sensitivity to human rights and has benefited from it to some degree, but also has expected the Palestinians to accept their claim to the land without doing well in seeing how the Palestinians also have a claim.

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