יום שני, מרץ 12, 2007

 

Right to exist and recognition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that it is important to emphasize that Germany supports Israel and that protecting Israel's right to exist will continue to stand at the center of Germany's foreign policy. "I regret that I am forced to reiterate this repeatedly," the chancellor added.

Indeed, it is regrettable that she feels "forced" to reiterate this. But note the neat way in which she (or the Haaretz reporter who summarized her words at the annual European-Israel Dialogue held in Berlin this weekend) elides the question of "support for Israel" with "Israel's right to exist." These are regularly treated as one in the same. They are not.

The very phrase "right to exist" has long troubled me. Of course, every state should recognize every other state that has been admitted to the United Nations. But the idea of "right to exist" is beside the point. Is there any other nation--aside from the non-state of Palestine, that is--where the question of its "right to exist" ever comes up?

States, per se, do not have rights to exist. They simply exist. Like Israel and 190 other states, including several recently recognized states that were previously occupied by a neighboring state (Eritrea, Timor-Leste, Estonia, etc.). Or they do not. Like Palestine. (And Kurdistan and Somaliland, which function in many ways like states, but are not recognized as such.)

States are nothing more than organizations with hierarchical authority over some population living within a bounded territory. Some have more effective authority than others--Pakistan, for example, hardly has any authority over parts of its territory, and the same can be said for numerous other states in the developing world. And some states have never established an ultimate definition of the territory over which they seek to have hierarchical authority. Like Israel, for example.

Then there is, of course, the question of recognition. This is what it boils down to: Does one state recognize that the other exists, and exchange ambassadors with it? Mixing this up with questions of "rights" of a state to exist is a dead end. The Israeli state does not recognize a Palestinian state, and thus it is utterly pointless to expect the government of the non-state of Palestine to recognize the Israeli state, much less to recognize that it is "right" to exist.

Recognition will come--if ever--as the mutual recognition of two states, Israel and Palestine, with defined borders and with ambassadors in one another's capitals (Jerusalem for both?). In the mean time, always making it a question of "right" and requiring the Palestinian non-state to recognize the Israeli state as a precondition for even talking about everything else is nothing but a way to ensure the conflict will never be resolved.

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