It’s a curious one, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that Palestine recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.” The political purpose behind this demand is probably to poison negotiations by posing an “impossible” demand upon the Palestinian leadership. But there’s an existential logic to this demand, the full force of which maybe the Prime Minister understands and maybe he doesn’t. That logic is the one posed by Hegel in the master/slave dialectic, according to which the master depends upon the other whom he controls and upon the recognition of him by the other. It’s a bitter pill.
These quotes from the NYT caught my eye the other day. The article relates to how Netanyahu has placed “recognition” at the top of the political agenda in his negotiations, if that’s what they are, with the Palestinian Authority. I think the remarks clarify what I’m trying to get at here.
Yair Lapid is quoted as saying: “My father did not come to Haifa from the Budapest ghetto in order to get recognition from[Mahmud Abbas]” Lapid does not think there is any reason for Israel to insist that the Palestinian people recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.” This may make good political sense in the short term. It’s also racist, as if Jews don’t need anything from Arabs, whose agency doesn’t matter. But maybe Jews do, in fact, need to be recognized by Arabs and by Palestinians in particular; and maybe Jewish life in Israel ultimately depends upon it as much as it depends upon the decision by his father to come to Palestine in the first place, without an agreement.
The writer of the NYT article writes: “Palestinian leaders say that they have long recognized Israel’s right to exist, and that defining its character is not their responsibility, noting that Israel did not make similar requests of Egypt and Jordan when signing peace treaties with them decades ago.” But that’s because Israel is not in an existential struggle with the peoples of Egypt and Jordan. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a unique one, given the dispossession of the other by the one. It’s an obscene and impossible dialectic, but no less real because of it. Especially in a life and death struggle based on an asymmetrical power relation, “I” depend upon “you” as much as, if not more than “you” depend on “me.”
“Don’t countries define themselves?” asked Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian minister and ambassador. “Why doesn’t Israel call itself at the U.N. whatever they want to call it — the Jewish whatever, Maccabean, whatever they want. Then the whole world will recognize it.” No, countries don’t define themselves, not in a globalized world, nor should they. Countries are defined or at least recognized by international bodies and by regional associations and networks. Israel relied upon the United Nations in 1947, and will be defined by Palestine just as much as Palestine will be recognized by the UN and defined by Israel.
“We will never recognize Israel the way they want, I mean genuinely, from our hearts,” she added. “Why for them to feel secure do we have to deny our most recent history?” This is a genuine question that comes close to the heart. The Jewish citizens of the State Israel will never feel or be secure without some form of an agreement with and recognition by the people of Historic Palestine, for whom such recognition must constitute heartbreak. Does recognition of the one by the other require the one to deny one’s history? A satisfactory resolution of such a conflict would depend upon mutual recognition of the other and the one.
Saeb Erekat is quoted as saying, “It’s my narrative, it’s my history, it’s my story,” he said. “I’ve never heard in the history of mankind that others must participate in defining the nature of others. It’s really ridiculous.” It’s not ridiculous. We don’t own our own stories. It’s not my narrative, my history, my story, not anymore. It’s our narrative, our history, our story, different versions of the-same-together.
Or maybe the better part of wisdom is to recognize that one doesn’t always get what one wants from the other, nor the other from the one. A friend remind me that recognition is a new condition imposed by Netanyahu to scuttle relations. But the principle is an old one, the principle of mutual recognition. It includes as well the necessity that Israel and those who support it recognize Palestine and its Nakba. That’s what mutual recognition comes down to. It’s more a meta-political principle than a political one, or one as much as the other.