CSM: Beyond Recognition

Questioning Israel’s right to exist is one of the most abhorrent means of delegitimizing the Jewish state. Why, after all, should Palestinians and others reconcile themselves to peace with a country that is illegitimate in the first place?

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, John Whitbeck, an international lawyer based in Saudi Arabia and a former advisor to Palestinian negotiators, advocates just that.

Twisting the terminology behind “recognizing Israel”, Whitbeck employs the peverse equation of the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering:

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.

Whitbeck reveals his unwillingness to recognize Israeli and Jewish rights in any context, regardless of borders, when he refers to “the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people from their homeland to make way for another people coming from abroad.”

Is Whitbeck unaware of thousands of years of Jewish history in the region as well as the existing Jewish communities resident before and during the period of the British Mandate to which he refers?

Another method of delegitimizing Israel is to portray it as a state that falls beyond the pale regarding its treatment of the Palestinians:

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.

The claim that Israel treats the Palestinians as “subhumans” ignores Israel’s compliance with humanitarian law despite the immense security pressures it finds itself under. This, in stark contrast with neighboring states treatment of their own people. Whitbeck, placing the blame for Palestinian suffering solely on Israel conveniently ignores the suffering that Palestinians are currently inflicting upon each other.

Whitbeck then employs the example of “ethnic cleansing by European colonists” of native Americans to further conjure a false equivalence between the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Most of the world has accepted a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including Israel itself. The demands of Israel and the Quartet (the US, EU, Russia and the UN), that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and adhere to previously signed agreements, are a logical and necessary precursor to any sort of attempt to make peace. Yet, Whitbeck refers to the demand for Hamas to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” as a “roadblock to peace” that, for Hamas, is “unreasonable, immoral, and impossible to meet.”

Whitbeck makes much of perceived differences in terminology between “recognizing Israel”,”recognizing Israel’s existence,” or “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” Instead of dealing with semantics doesn’t Whitbeck have a responsibility to his readers to recognize Hamas’ extremism instead of whitewashing a terrorist organization and promoting the delegitimzation of the State of Israel?

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