Peace in the Middle East: A simple matter of 'recognition'

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It is hardly surprising that Avigdor Lieberman, the newly-minted extreme-right Israeli Foreign Minister, is continuing to plod along with Israel’s state policy of shunning Hamas.

Israel thought it was okay to talk to the Palestinian Muslim militants, and even to give them a hand building their organization, back in the 1980s when they were a small thorn in the side of (and a convenient counterweight to) the PLO’s secular Fatah movement. But now Hamas has been elected by a majority of Palestinians, by the twisted logic of the colonizer, that means it has lost all legitimacy.

Hamas can redeem itself however, and earn the right to grovel for Israel’s crumbs just like the compliant Fatah and its lovable, cuddly little bureaucrat of a leader, Mahmoud Abbas. All it needs to do is recognize Israel. As Benjamin Netanyahu put it not long after his election victory, “Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples.”

What? Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel? Come on, how could it not recognize the world’s fourth-ranked military machine, a nuclear power that continues to turn the screws in its brutal siege of Gaza and carve up pieces of the West Bank? Is Hamas still blinded by the white phosphorus bombs that seared through the bodies of so many Gaza residents in Israeal’s Operation Cast Lead?

Even a blind Palestinian man could not fail to recognize Israel. He would recognize the sound of the bulldozers ripping down his home and tearing through his olive groves. He would recognize Israel in the screams of his sick children, deprived of food and medicine by the military siege of Gaza.

Come on Hamas, stop being coy. You recognize Israel. There it is -- the gleaming shopping mall built on the ruins of a pre-1948 Palestinian village; the sterile blue swimming pools of the Jewish-only settlement over there on the hill overlooking the Jewish-only expressway bypassing the military checkpoints that make daily life so humiliating for Palestinians; the wall. Come on, you know the wall, you have to at least be able to recognize all that concrete and mettle cutting deep swaths across the Green Line that defined 1967 Israel. How could you not recognize that? It’s taller and longer than the Berlin Wall. You know the one -- it’s that towering cold grey structure separating Palestinian farmers from their land, children from their schools and families from each other. You’ve got to recognize that, Hamas.

No? You still don’t recognize Israel? I suppose it must be hard for you to recognize an entity that is in a continual state of flux. There is 1948 Israel, 1967 Israel and numerous versions after that, each one larger than the next, always hungrily eating up more territory in the form of Jewish-only settlements, Jewish-only roads connecting the settlement network within post-1967 Palestinian territory, “buffer zones” annexed on to Israel with the construction of the apartheid wall, and so on.

It must be hard to recognize something that changes so drastically from one day to the next. And, you may ask, what is the point in recognizing today’s Israel when you will just have to go through the whole process of recognizing even bigger Israels tomorrow and the next day as more Palestinian villages are cleansed of their inhabitants to make way for more and more settlements?

And it is not only the size of Israel that is changing, but its very character as a political entity; formerly a regional power, then an occupying force and now that it has absorbed so much of the best land and the strategic areas of occupied Palestine so as to render the latter, if you will pardon the expression, unrecognizable -- a patchwork of Bantustans -- Israel has become a full-blown apartheid state.

So it falls to you, Hamas, the elected leaders of the Bantustans that make up what is left of Palestine, to seek dialogue with the state that has imprisoned you. But Israel will not speak with you until you stop this charade, and simply admit the obvious, admit reality.

You claim to see hope and justice in your future when all around you are the walls of an open-air prison. You claim to see your people, long dispossessed of their homes, obtaining their just “right of return.” You must stop this foolishness and recognize your prison walls. Only then will you be a “legitimate partner.”

That is what it means to recognize Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu insists you must, as a “Jewish state” -- a state defined by its religious character which must therefore view its current Palestinian population as a “demographic problem,” second class citizens, and which cannot allow the non-Jewish people it terrorized into leaving their homes to ever come back.

People all over the world -- from the veterans of the South African anti-apartheid struggle to union members in Canada -- now recognize Israel as an apartheid state, even if they, like you, seem to have some foolish notion that they can help bring about a change in this state of affairs through efforts in international solidarity. That kind of recognition is not good enough. You must not only recognize the apartheid state of Israel; you must also abandon any hope to change that state into something more inclusive that will allow Palestinians to return to their native land.

Given the Bantustans that now make up occupied Palestine and the impossibility of those little barren patches of earth of ever forming a viable state along side the Goliath of Israel, there are many people around the world talking about a “one-state solution” as the only way forward for peace in the Middle East -- a secular state where Palestinians and Jews might live together in peace and harmony. This is a dangerous idea. You must never consider it. You must recognize the hopelessness of your situation.

And come on, be quick about it. You mustn’t keep Avigdor and Bibi waiting!


David Bernans is the author of the historical novel,
North of 9/11 (Cumulus Press, 2006).

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