Beyond Images - Briefing  6 Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
RECOGNISING ISRAEL'S RIGHT TO EXIST: Actions speak louder than words
London - published 30 July 2002

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The Palestinians have already recognised Israel. They amended their national covenant in the late 1980s to remove references to the destruction of Israel; and acknowledged Israel's right to exist under the Oslo Accords of 1993. Israel is the stronger party, and its demand that the Palestinians "recognise" them before peace can be achieved is Israeli paranoia.

Recognition needs to be reflected in actions not just words

  • It is reasonable for Israel to require that it be recognised as a precondition for reaching a peace and coexistence deal. Palestinian recognition on paper (which is highly debatable anyway given the convoluted way they amended their national covenant in the 1990s) is belied by their current ideology and political culture.

  • Recognition is not a matter of words alone but of actions on the ground.

The Palestinian demand for a "right of return" is incompatible with the continued existence of Israel

  • One of the clearest areas where recognition on paper is contradicted by Palestinian policy is over their demands for a complete “right of return”.

  • By most calculations, there are over three million Palestinians who qualify as refugees across the Arab world and beyond.

  • In the Oslo negotiations, and since, Palestinian spokesmen have repeatedly demanded an unconditional right of return to "Israel proper" for these refugees. In January 2001 the Arab League confirmed that this unconditional right was a "sacred right" of the Palestinians.

  • If the Palestinians exercise that right, Israel as it is currently constituted would cease to exist as a viable Jewish state - which is its entire raison d'etre.
  • They have refused to compromise on this right to date. This refusal contradicts the claim that they have “recognised Israel”.
  • By not yielding on the demand for an unlimited "right of return" the Palestinians have also rejected a two-state solution.
  • The Palestinian demand for the “right of return” can only be fulfilled at the expense of Israel’s very existence.

Violent rejectionism is now the dominant ideology in Palestinian society

  • In October 2000 the Palestinian Authority gave a free hand to fanatical groups – such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad - who make no secret of their desire to kill Israelis and destroy the country. Giving them freedom to operate was completely inconsistent with recognition of Israel, and the effects of this disastrous move are still being felt.

  • How are attacks on Israelis in Rishon Lezion, Netanya and Tel-Aviv supposed to convince Israelis that the Palestinians recognise them?

  • According to an opinion survey in June 2002, conducted by a Palestinian research body, 51% of Palestinians reject Israel's right to exist.

  • Most support suicide attacks on Israeli civilians. Their leadership has done virtually nothing to promote the concept of coexistence.

  • If this attitude is not adapted, then most Israelis now fear that withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank would simply offer terrorist groups a further opportunity to threaten their citizens until the country supposedly “surrenders”.

Rejection of Israel Prevails in Palestinian Education, Political Culture and the Media

  • The formation of Israel in 1948 is still referred to as "the catastrophe" - Al Naqba - as though the clock can be turned back to pre-1948.

  • Palestinian leaders still feed their people the belief that they will one day be able to "return home". The refusal to move beyond historical grievances, and compromise their claims, indicates that they have not come to terms with Israel yet.

  • Palestinian culture still characterises the Israelis as colonianists, and as bad as the Nazis. Israelis are dehumanised in their media. Dangerous and inflammatory myths about Israeli are created and wildly disseminated.

  • Most Palestinians still deny any religious connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel (on which See Beyond Images Briefing 1 – The Unbreakable Bond).

  • There is no respect for Israel’s rights. Reportedly, at the opening of the Camp David talks in July 2000 the Palestinians asked for proof that the ancient temple of King Solomon had existed in Jerusalem. Nothing in Palestinian literature or culture corrects this basic form of denial (in contrast to Israeli culture, which includes in its open media many advocates of Palestinian dignity, history and rights)

  • Palestinians schools and universities, for the most part, educate the younger generation that the Israelis are the enemy.

  • Worst of all, Palestinian society has developed a cult of death and martyrdom around the sustained suicide bombing campaign, inciting young Palestinians to acts of extreme violence, accompanied by nihilistic and ferocious expressions of rage and hate. There is no language of remorse or self-reflection, even as the failure of this violence to advance Palestinian goals becomes clear.

The view of Israeli historian Benny Morris on Palestinian recognition

  • It is sometimes claimed that Israel’s demand for recognition mainly comes from those on the Israeli right. To illustrate that this is incorrect, here is the view of Benny Morris, a well-known Israeli academic who is deeply disliked on the Israeli right because he has questioned the conventional wisdom that Israel was not responsible for the refugee problem in 1948:-

    "The main problem is the Arab world's - and particularly the Palestinians' - unwillingness to accept a Jewish state on what they consider their land. They don't recognise the legitimacy of Zionism and they deny the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Only the Arabs have a rightful claim to this land, they say, and we're a bunch of thieves."

    Interview with Eric Silver, Jewish Chronicle, London, March 2002.

Beyond Images Conclusions

  • It is the responsibility of the Palestinian leadership, through education, cultural change and practical diplomacy to recognise and accept Israel, and to educate the Palestinian people on the consequences of that for their lives, their hopes and their future.

  • The Israeli people are ready to make deep sacrifices for peace, but they need to feel that there is a partner “on the ground” with whom they can do this. The conflict since October 2000 has caused incalculable damage to this process.

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