The Shame of Recognition: On What to do about the Arab-Israeil Problem

Whenever I lay out the obstacles to peace as I understand them, I get challenged by well-intentioned people who have either never heard the information I bring to bear on the problem, or never paid attention — “So what’s your solution?”

One of my answers is to point out that the very question suggests that the reason they don’t think about the issues at play is because it renders current “solutions” null and void, and the only thing that people who are suddenly confronted with an honor-shame culture in genocidal meltdown rather than a rational “let’s work this out by compromise” culture just waiting to resolve the conflict is the unacceptable options of transfer and war. So often enough, I’ll focus on the point that you don’t reality test based on solutions, you come up with solutions as a result of reality testing.

But I think we can go further, and the following article suggests one way. As readers of this blog know well, I think the problems of honor and shame play a key role in this conflict, that Israel’s very existence is a humiliation to the Arabs and Muslims (for cultural and religious reasons). Further, I think that liberals who, upon hearing this, say, “Well, you’ll never change that…” not only abdicate on their values and put the onus on Israel, but show a profound contempt for the Arabs who, they think, will never change their (by liberal standards) primitive instincts of whitening their face by shedding the blood of their enemy.

The following article raises one of the most critical issues faced by Israel — the Arab world’s refusal to recognize them. This is not just a diplomatic maneuver, it gets at the core of Arab attitudes towards the unacceptable anomaly of a state of free and autonomous Jews in the heart of what should be Dar al Islam. It’s noxious impact on the lives of everyone – Palestinians above all — can be seen in both the imprisonment of Palestinian refugees by their Arab “brethren” in order to have a festering sore of reproach with which to justify perpetual war on free Jews, but on the Three No’s of Khartoumno Negotiations, No Recognition, No Peace! — after the Six Day War, which left millions of Palestinians under Israeli “occupation.” The job of any West that want’s to survive, the non-appeasing West, should be to point out to Arabs who yell about the “Occupation” that it’s their fault, that they’re refusal to recognize Israel and negotiate in 1967 was the cause of these last 40 years of Palestinian subjection. (That would, among other things, flush out the ones for whom the “Occupied Territories” means the land from the river to the sea.)

Civil Fights: Bumps under the rug

Evelyn Gordon, THE JERUSALEM POST Aug. 15, 2007
There is often more truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict in articles on unrelated subjects than in articles about the conflict itself.

Consider, for instance, an item on mapmaking that appeared in the International Herald Tribune two weeks ago. In it, the owner of an Italian company that makes globes discussed issues such as whether Cyprus should be drawn divided or united (most countries do not recognize the island’s de-facto division) and whether the gulf between Iran and Saudi Arabia should be named the Arabian or the Persian Gulf.

Then, in one throwaway sentence, the article hit on the real cause of our conflict: “And in much of the Arab world, Israel is nonexistent.” Arab governments and educational institutions insist that their maps and globes eschew all mention of a country called Israel, and mapmakers obediently comply.

IT IS HARD to think of another interstate conflict in which one country refuses even to acknowledge the other’s existence. Indian and Pakistani maps, for instance, show their disputed border in different places, but both include an entity called “India” or “Pakistan.”

Neither American nor Soviet maps ever failed to depict the rival superpower during the Cold War. Israel’s maps show Syria, a country with which it has been at war since its birth, as well as Iran, whose president routinely vows to wipe it off the rest of the world’s maps as well.

But in the Arab world, even a depiction of Israel within its pre-1967 armistice lines is anathema.

Fifty-nine years after Israel’s establishment, the Arab world is still not prepared to accept the Jewish state’s existence. It continues to dream that Israel will somehow disappear, and that dream is transmitted to successive generations through its maps.

After all, a map reflects what its maker or commissioner deems the “correct” picture of the world. And the “correct” Arab picture of the world is still one where the Zionist entity does not exist.

THIS SAME truth was offhandedly acknowledged in a recent New York Times article on another unrelated subject: the possibility of partitioning Iraq. The article cited a column that ran last year in the Dubai-based Gulf News, entitled “Partitioning Iraq: No Starter.” In it, author George Hishmeh, a former writer for the US Information Agency, explained that one reason the idea is a nonstarter is that the very word “partition” has “an ugly ring in Arab ears, especially after what happened in Palestine in 1948” – i.e., the UN partition plan that paved the way for Israel’s establishment.

In other words, 59 years after Israel’s creation, the idea of partition is still so taboo in the Arab world that it cannot even be considered in the completely unrelated context of Iraq. How likely is it, then, that the Arab world is ready to accept the “original sin” – partition of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea into two states, one of which would be Jewish?

Diplomats tend to dismiss such indications of Arab sentiment as unimportant, insisting that the “real” Arab position is reflected in documents like the Arab peace initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002 and reaffirmed by an Arab League summit this year. Yet in fact, the Arab peace initiative is completely consistent with the vision shown on Arab maps; diplomats simply prefer to overlook this inconvenient truth.

THE DOCUMENT states explicitly that one condition for peace is “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” And the Arab world’s consistent interpretation of this resolution, ever since its adoption in 1948, has been that it mandates a “right of return” for all refugees and their descendants – currently some 4.3 million people, according to UNRWA – to pre-1967 Israel.

Nor does the resolution’s text preclude this interpretation (though it also admits other interpretations): It states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes… should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.”

Currently, Israel’s population of about 7.1 million includes 1.4 million Arabs and 5.4 million Jews. It is not hard to realize that the addition of 4.3 million refugees and their descendants – or even a sizable fraction thereof – would turn Israel from a Jewish-majority state to an Arab-majority or binational state. In other words, the Jewish state would cease to exist, even if the name “Israel” remained on international maps.

Here, too, the standard diplomatic response is simply to pretend that the problem does not exist: that this does not reflect the “real” Arab position; it is merely a negotiating tactic.

Unfortunately, such assumptions have proven unfounded in the past – as they did at the Camp David summit in 2000 and the subsequent Washington and Taba talks in 2001. Then, too, the working assumption was that Yasser Arafat’s stated positions, such as his insistence on the “right of return” and his refusal to acknowledge any Jewish link to the Temple Mount, were mere negotiating tactics. Yet in practice, according to then foreign minister and chief Israeli negotiator Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Palestinians – not only Arafat, but also the current “great white hope” of the peace process, Mahmoud Abbas – proved unwilling to budge from these positions.

PEACE, ACCORDING to the cliché, is made with enemies. But it cannot be made with an enemy that refuses to acknowledge your right to exist. That is the real root of the conflict, and until it is resolved, no amount of territorial concessions will make any difference.

Yet it will never be resolved as long as the international community insists on sweeping it under the rug. Thus if the world truly wants the Arab-Israeli conflict settled, it must begin challenging the Arab refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist wherever and whenever it comes up – from the public refusal by heads of state to abandon their demand for a “right of return” to the lowly globes that are teaching a whole new generation of Arab schoolchildren that the Jewish state does not, should not and, if God is kind, someday will not exist.

For the West to indulge this kind of peurile denial of reality of the “other” in any way shape or form is a critical tactical and strategic error. It should not be a bargaining chip, but a sine qua non of any discussion. And there are a number of ways that the West can make these matters known to the Arabs and Muslims… indeed an escalating series of moves (as on a chess board), that target the Arabs’ incredible sensitivity to public humiliation. If they know that resisting the first moves will bring not concession (as in Danoongate), but further, escalating humiliations (like the publication of the cartoons in every Western newspaper and magazine, with extensive commentary on how the most vicious ones were forged by the rabble-rousing imams), they will back down. This can begin with drawing the lines on map-making. No self-respecting Western outfit should put out maps without Israel. And every request for such maps should become a cause celebre. If the Muslims insist, that just means that the long and ugly history of how they’ve treated their own people in their mad pursuit of honor comes out. After a series of further public problems created by these matters, if the Arab states continue to threaten and fight, then embassies should start moving to Jerusalem – one by one, so as to draw out the process and give them time to step down. And if the Arab states break off diplomatic contact with the state in question, then we respond.

Obviously this is a process that needs to be thought out by people more knowledgeable in matters of diplomacy than I. But instead of these folks putting their minds to figuring out how not to upset the Arabs and Muslims — like England’s reaction to the kidnapping and release of her sailors — they should be figuring out how to pick their fights, have a consistent and coordinated strategy, and stick to it. And the core of that strategy should be the twin issues of the Arabs and Muslims fear of public humiliation, and the fundamental inacceptablility of their refusal to recognize Israel.

3 Responses to The Shame of Recognition: On What to do about the Arab-Israeil Problem

  1. fp says:

    This has been the root of the conflict since day one.
    Yet the failure/refusal of the world to see/accept that has not only not decreased, but is increasing by day.

    On what grounds would one expect the trend to stop, let alone reverse? Particularly when now fear, ignorance and anti-semitism are worse?

    The issue has been pointed out over and over again for the last 60 years to no avail.

    A while ago that the west would not let Hamas self-destruct, that it would revive them again. And as Prodi, UK MPs and EU MPs have demonstrated, this is exactly what happened. Looks like they even managed to convince the reluctant Abbas to reconcile.

    So just repeating the root problem yet again won’t have any impact. Knowledge and reason no longer count.

  2. fp says:

    Whoops, I meant:

    “A while ago I predicted that the west …”

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