The Palestinians are faced by the infamous request of recognizing Israel. A request carrying various dimensions ranging from psychological to highly political concepts. Such a request is not only advanced by the Israelis, but by Western countries and the Quartet as well. However, the more Palestinians are reluctant to accede, the more Israel and its proponents camp on it. This projected demand and the halt of violence have become an international prerequisite to the resumption of the peace negotiations.
Palestinian psyche refuses such an unconditional recognition since it is considered as a capitulation and as a priceless concession without any reward. In this respect Palestinians don’t admit the supremacy of their powerful neighbour, since they have been struggling for their own recognition, which they have been denied of since decades. Unlike states, usually peoples never capitulate to the victors and there is always a vanguard to lead a guerrilla warfare defying the aggressor.
Palestinians believe that they are the ones who need to be recognized by Israel and the International Community and see their rights protected. They don’t accept the irrational logic of the victor and his Western allies knowing that they are on the weak side and that the balance of power is not in their favour.
Paradoxically, Israel and the International community are tying the hands of the Palestinians with all the restrictions without leaving any room for them to catch up their breath. They keep hammering on their heads with this dubious demand of “Recognition” in attempt to break their will.
In this regard, an important question has to be addressed to the Western political mind about the moral justification of this demand and its political dimension. Are Palestinians requested to recognize the Jewish State as an absolute entity, or within certain borders, and which borders? The pre-67 borders, or the post-67 borders?
Or are the Palestinians requested to recognize the ugly wall as the final borders?
Are Palestinians requested to recognize the incarnation of Jewish Nationalism, or Zionism on Palestinian land?
Or, is it recognition to Israel’s supremacy over the region which is in question?
What about the Zionist recognition to Palestinian Nationalism or Patriotism?
The struggle for recognition on both sides and the alignment of pros and cons provides us with an insight into the nature of international politics. Although the PLO has already used this precious bargaining card during the Oslo agreements, Israel is never tired of repeating and repeating the same demand. It is used as a delaying tactic to forestall any serious peaceful settlement. Any newly formed Palestinian Government has to declare its public recognition to the State of Israel, be it Hamas or Islamic Jihad or any body else.
In analysing the recognition process Francis Fukuyama wrote in the preface of his famous book “The End of History and the Last Man” of 1992 the following:
“the desire for recognition that led to the original bloody battles for prestige between two individual combatants leads logically to imperialism and world empire. The relationship of lordship and bondage on domestic level is naturally replicated on the level of states, where nations as a whole seek recognition and enter into bloody battles for supremacy”. As an American scholar, Fukuyama is not referring in particular to Israel’s wars for recognition against Palestinians and Arab states in the Middle East, but his description is fully compatible with the situation in the region. He was referring to the wars which took place in Europe between the different Nationalisms in the last two hundred years.
In fact the State of Israel through its five or six wars against its Arab or Palestinian neighbours has become the super power in the region and has imposed its upper hand as the supreme master. Israeli Nationalism or Zionism has been a vehicle for the struggle for recognition over the past hundred years, and the source of intense conflicts with the emerging Arab and Palestinian nationalisms.
On the other Hand, Arab Nationalism started its wars of recognition against Western colonialist powers after the WWI under the slogan of freedom and independence. While Palestinians launched their struggle for recognition against British Colonialism and the emerging Jewish Nationalism. Both, Palestinian and Jewish Nationalisms clashed with each other and simultaneously fought their wars against the British Mandate. However, the Balance of power favoured Zionist ambitions, while Palestinians are still fighting for their nationalism and statehood to be recognized.
But if the war is driven by the desire of recognition, then it is advisable for both contradicting nationalisms to reciprocally recognize one another’s legitimacy. Consequently, the relationship of lordship and bondage will be abolished by making the Palestinian underdogs their own masters and consequently should have a similar effect on the relationship between two sovereign and mutually recognized states.
Through his piercing look at the historical developments Fukuyama sees the solution in liberal democracies replacing the irrational desire to be recognized as greater than others with a rational desire to be recognized as equal. “A world made up of liberal democracies, should have much less incentive for a war,” he continues. Indeed, there is substantial empirical evidence from the past couple of hundred years that liberal democracies do not behave imperialistically (with some exceptions) toward one another, even if they are perfectly capable of going to war with states that are not democracies and do not share the same fundamental values. The demand for national recognition in Western Europe has been relinquished in favor of a universal recognition in a larger Union of different European nations.
But here in the Middle East the peoples of the region are infected by disease of Nationalism and are still far away from establishing liberal democracies based on tolerance and respect for other cultures, religions and rights. Unfortunately, we are still governed by the omen of Nationalism of the last centuries: Arab, Palestinian or Jewish Nationalisms are condemned to fight each other and spill more and more innocent blood.
* Mahmoud Labadi served as the spokesperson of the PLO in Lebanon until 1983. He was the director general of the Palestinian Legislative Council until his retirement in 2005.