Makdisi had an op-ed in the LA Times last March (which I didn’t see until today) about recognizing Israel’s right to exist. Saree Makdisi is Edward Said’s nephew, which I believe makes him Jean Said Makdisi’s son. In any case, the UCLA professor makes the point that expecting Palestinians to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” is absurd:
First, the formal diplomatic language of “recognition” is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to “recognize” a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).
Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to “recognize?” Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, “Israel” is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of “Israel”?
For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?
If none of these questions are easy to answer, why are such demands being made of the Palestinians? And why is nothing demanded of Israel in turn?
I came across this article in the comments section (which I normally stay away from, as it’s generally populated by nutbags of the anti-Semitic and über-Zionist Arab-hating varieties) of a post by Phil Weiss on the same topic. He quotes Chomsky, who responded to Weiss’s question about recognizing Israel’s right to exist:
No state demands a ‘right to exist,’ nor is any such right accorded to any state, nor should it be. Mexico recognizes the US, but not its ‘right to exist’ sitting on half of Mexico, acquired by aggression. The same generalizes.
To my knowledge, the concept ‘right to exist’ was invented by US-Israeli propaganda in the 1970s, when the Arab states (with the support of the PLO) formally recognized Israel’s right to exist within secure and recognized borders (citing the wording of UN 242). It was therefore necessary to raise the bars to prevent the negotiations that the US and Israel alone (among significant actors) were blocking, as they still are. They understood, of course, that there is no reason why Palestinians should recognize the legitimacy of their dispossession — and the point generalizes, as noted, to just about every state; maybe not Andorra.
This is a question that I’ve often thought about and have been hesitant to comment on, even with some friends, because of the tar and feathering that automatically comes about as soon as someone questions Israel’s right to exist. I’ll write a longer piece, with my own thoughts on the matter, this weekend, but in the meantime, this point made by Makdisi seems particularly relevant to me:
Israel wants the Palestinians, half of whom were driven from their homeland so that a Jewish state could be created in 1948, to recognize not merely that it exists (which is undeniable) but that it is “right” that it exists — that it was right for them to have been dispossessed of their homes, their property and their livelihoods so that a Jewish state could be created on their land. The Palestinians are not the world’s first dispossessed people, but they are the first to be asked to legitimize what happened to them.