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Israel has yet to recognize the Palestinian people

The Netanyahu government insists that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, as opposed to just recognizing that it exists. But the Israeli prime minister refuses to recognize the Palestinian people and their rights to exist as a nation, as opposed to just acknowledging the fact that they live here.

By Elie Friedman

A Palestinian protester holds a flag as Israeli soldiers look on from beyond the separation wall, Bil’in. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

‘Recognizing the Palestinian people would require going back and re-evaluating the Zionist narrative, and coming to terms with a competing narrative.’ (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Following World War II, the term “recognition” became political, a term whose purpose was to ensure the liberation of oppressed ethnic groups demanding political self-determination. The demand for recognition was especially relevant to conflicts surrounding identity, in which at least one side feels that the other is denying its identity and its right to become a significant actor on the world stage.

Theoretically, one can distinguish between two different components of recognition: recognition of the “other” as a nation, and recognizing its right to a state. The causal relationship between these two forms of recognition remains controversial. In my doctorate research I focused on the discourse around recognition by Israeli leaders vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue, highlighting the rhetorical “gap in recognition” by various leaders, which hindered the process of mutual recognition.

This article is about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric on recognizing the Palestinian “other.” Since 2009 Netanyahu has insisted that the State of Israel accepts the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state, yet the Palestinians do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, rejecting the very legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. In other words, Netanyahu presents Israel as an actor that is willing to compromise, while painting Palestinians as rejecters of peace. Netanyahu has repeated his position since laying out his vision in the now-famous Bar Ilan Speech. That speech, however, laid bare the wide gap between Netanyahu’s recognition of the Palestinians’ right to a state and his recognition of the Palestinians as a nation.

In his speech, the Israeli prime minister said:

The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People… But, friends, we must state the whole truth here. The truth is that in the area of our homeland, in the heart of our Jewish Homeland, now lives a large population of Palestinians… These two facts – our link to the Land of Israel, and the Palestinian population who live here, have created deep disagreements within Israeli society. But the truth is that we have much more unity than disagreement.

In doing so, Netanyahu presented “us” as the nation whose identity was forged in this homeland — a metaphor that ties a nation to the land — both physically and organically. The Palestinians, however, are not spoken of as a “nation” or a “people,” but rather as a “public” or “population” that “lives here” in our homeland — a sad fact of life that causes internal divisions among Israelis. The prime minister clearly distinguishes between a nation deserving of rights that shares its homeland with a population, or at most a public. In other words, in the first speech he has ever given supporting a Palestinian state, Netanyahu adopted a rhetorical strategy of denying Palestinians their nationhood.

Moreover, Netanyahu is seen as someone who suffers from the exact same problem as the Palestinians whom he blames. He argues that Palestinians recognize Israel’s existence only because the power dynamics are clearly not in their favor; that is, they recognize the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East, but not in its right to exist. However, the same thing could be said about Netanyahu’s stance toward the Palestinians.

Israel’s prime minister is able to swallow, at least rhetorically, the idea of a Palestinian state in order to solve the regretful problem of another population living on Jewish land. Yet his uncompromising position that the land is the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people prevents him from recognizing the legitimacy of Palestinian nationhood and its narrative. A Palestinian state, therefore, is something we will simply have to come to accept. Recognizing the Palestinian people, on the other hand, would require going back and re-evaluating the Zionist narrative, and coming to terms with a competing narrative. Netanyahu is not ready for that.

Israel’s repeated demands that Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state are an articulation of the need to hear that Palestinians accept the Jewish presence in this country as a moral principle — that they do not view the Jewish presence as a regretful fact. But as long as the State of Israel does not recognize the Palestinians as a nation entitled to its own state, even on some of the land it considers its homeland, it will not hear the words it hopes so badly to hear.

Elie Friedman is a visiting scholar at the Linguistics Department at Lancaster University, an associate research fellow at the The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, and a lecturer in the School of Politics and Communications at Hadassa Academic College. This article was first published in Hebrew by The Forum for Regional Thinking.

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      Has Israel recognized the Vulcan people?
      Maybe they should recognize the Unicorn Nation?
      How about the Hobbits?
      Whoops…I just remembered that Israel does not recognize fictional non-people?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: what a strange situation Israel is in – it controls the lives of 6 million non-existent hobbits who have somehow infiltrated the land that God gave The Jews.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          We don’t control 6 million hobbits. One set of hobbits are controlled by Hamas -an Isis-like fundamentalist Islamic loons. The other group of Hobbits are controlled by the Munich Olympics Butcher and Holocaust-denier Abbas. These hobbit squatters are only temporarily in OUR land. The day is rapidly approaching when we repatriate them to Jordan.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      The more I read +972 magazine and Palestinian websites, the more I find myself drifting towards the Likud position as the most likely basis for a settlement.

      If PLs and their supporters continue on this pathway it seems to me that the more extreme parties can only grow in strength.

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Netanyahu has not been the only Prime Minister since Oslo There was Rabin, Peres, Barak, Sharon and Olmert. ALL of them fell all over themselves saying they were all committed to an independent Palestinian state (actually Netanyahu has himself said that). So why didn’t the Palestinians take them up on it?
      Don’t forget the UN Partition resolution of 1947 offered the Palestinians a state…they rejected it.
      So don’t blame Netanyahu if he doesn’t go far enough for you in recognizing a supposed “right” of the Palestinian people to an independent state.

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      I must correct myself, Rabin said the Palestinians would get autonomy, not a state, but there is no doubt today he would have changed his position. While Peres was PM he vehemently denied there would be a Palestinian state, but he did change his position. No one that supported Oslo would say they are against a Palestinian state today, yet the Palestinians reject making a solid offer in order to get one. They prefer the status quo. They can’t give up the demand for an unlimited right of return of the refugees and Israel can’t agree to it. Stalemate.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is a fake “issue” and a fake stalemate, Ike. With a tired “talking point” feel to it. Israel could have an agreement very quickly and it knows it, but it would actually have to offer a Palestinian leadership a credible deal–something Israel has never done–that would give them the political cover to accept a mostly symbolic refugee return. Israeli leaders, who operate in the same universe as Palestinian leaders do of having to convince their public before they can sign a deal know this very well. Every Israeli leader understands it instinctively. All credible accounts of what the Palestinian leadership has actually been offered and under what circumstances and when do not square with the “stalemate” you pose. The actual stalemate is over the Israeli refusal to craft even a minimally acceptable deal. Your settler leaders say this quite bluntly, unabashedly, they do not feel the need to dress it up. The closest Israel ever came is what Olmert offered but even that had several unresolved problems Olmert could not address before his corruptions problems undermined him and Tzipi Livni point blank advised Abbas to wait for something better that of course never came. Of course, if you say Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim and East Jerusalem are not problems for a Palestinian leader then we are not even having a serious conversation.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          You do not speak for the Palestinians, you are not in a position to make compromises in their name and you are essentially calling them liars. They CAN NOT an WILL NOT give up their demand for an unlimited right of return of the refugees. This is what they say. Please don’t give us the old “Orientalist” line that says “you know that Arabs speak with a lot of bluster and don’t mean what they say”. They have been saying this for 68 years and they mean it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You’ll have to patronize an awful lot of Israeli leaders too with that attitude. And you don’t speak for the Israelis. Never mind “the Jews.” Please see my answer to AJew below.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Elie Friedman provides an intelligent and illuminating answer to the oft-repeated question: Why won’t the Palestinians today simply recognize Israel as a Jewish state? (Compare that to the cretinous first comment on this page, a comment that makes Friedman’s point so glaringly it constitutes a kind of “own goal.”)

      Peace Now’s answer to these questions resonates with Friedman’s:
      Do the Palestinians exist?

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        I prefer the following source rather than your source Ben:


        This source outlines why Abbas refuses to recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Abbas is concerned that with such a recognition, they would forfeit their cherished right of return demand.

        So why exactly is Israel expected to recognise a Palestinian state?

        As Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, Palestinian AuthorityPresident Mahmoud Abbas has remained unyielding, and rejected most of Kerry’s ideas for advancing the peace process. Worse, he has backtracked on previous positions. During the negotiations, Palestinian intermediaries reportedly were nearing a compromise with Israel over allowing some number of refugees. (Israel said it would take 80,000 to live in Israel and the Palestinians wanted 200,000).

        Abbas, however, subsequently set back the talks by declaring that all refugees should be allowed the choice of whether to live in Israel or Palestine.

        According to the UN, more than five million Palestinians are refugees. Does Israel have any obligation to take in some or all of those people?”

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Thanks. I prefer what Elie Friedman and Peace Now write. What they write feels much truer and less concocted, less “just so.” You see, their explanations are intelligent. Their explanations are not self-serving. And their explanations are dynamic and not static. They understand that negotiations are dynamic processes between humans. Where you start is not where you end up. And that both sides comprise populations made up of human beings worthy of respect. You prefer arms crossed, unbudging, static, “this is just how they are and how we are because Arabs and Jews are just like that” explanations, and you prefer it because:

          –You get to play the victim.

          –You are fundamentally ethnotribal in your worldview and I, a political liberal, prefer to see, when possible, the things all human beings have in common. We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up and emphasizing their differences. The 20th C was a bloodbath. For the Jews most of all, but for everyone. And yet you guys are bent on emphasizing differences and vigilantly policing for backsliders among you, who you call traitors.

          — But most of all you prefer it because Israel has all the power and you love the status quo and the long game and accustomization and wearing them out and wearing the world out. I love justice, fairness and peace. And being sensible.

          Now every time you bring up Bibi’s patented “Jewish State” Gimmick I can save both of us a lot of time and just link to Friedman’s scintillating analysis. You’ll hate it, I’ll like it, you’ll denounce me as an Arab-lover and a damned liberal too, and everyone will be happy.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “They understand…”

            They understand nothing. At best they are wishful thinking dreamers who ignore the reality which dangles under their very noses. Yes, peace now ignore even the fact that Abbas is the one who is refusing to negotiate. And they pretend that Hamas does not even exist.

            “I prefer….”

            Yes Ben, I know what you prefer. You prefer to pretend, eludue, delude, evade and quote the delusionals and the liars. Never mind. Lucky some of us are here to counteract your BS in a very small way. If it makes just one person think for themselves more and take the trouble to look at the complicated Middle East story in a more balanced way then it is worth while. As for the rest of em’, the rest of the ones who prefer to wallow in their hatred or allow themselves to be deluded, like you Ben, I say to them: cest lavie.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Barzel189

      The chutzpa of this article is pretty amusing. The rejection by the Palestinians of the idea of Jews having their own country stems ideologically from the rejection by the Palestinians of the idea that the Jews are a people and so have a right to self-determination. To now go ahead and accuse Bibi of not recognizing the Palestinians as a people is some rank hypocrisy. Israel has repeated proposed holding negotiations on the basis of two states for two peoples. That proposal is an implicit recognition of the Palestinians as a people. That proposal has repeatedly been rejected by the Palestinians because they reject the idea of Jewish peoplehood.

      So, here is a challenge. Find me a Palestinian leader who would be willing to start negotiations on the basis of two states for two peoples. I can find plenty of Israeli leaders that support that basis.

      Hence, the article is hypocritical garbage. Have a nice day.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Barzel, your response is a thicket of propaganda terms that ignores what the Prime Minister actually said. (“Netanyahu presented “us” as the nation whose identity was forged in this homeland — a metaphor that ties a nation to the land — both physically and organically. The Palestinians, however, are not spoken of as a “nation” or a “people,” but rather as a “public” or “population” that “lives here” in our homeland.”)

        It’s not that hard to whack through this thicket though if one changes a few terms.

        If you said “homeland for (not nation state of) the Jewish people” and “homeland for (not nation state of) the Palestinian people” that would defuse a lot of the slipperiness of terms. And if you coupled that to saying “two states for two peoples, the Israeli people and the Palestinian people,” that would further defuse the slipperiness of these terms and be true to the complexities. What’s wrong with that? Note the Palestinians are not demanding to be recognized as “The Nation State of the Arab People.” Or “The Nation State of the Palestinian-Arab People.”

        The difficulty is illuminated by looking at this formulation: “The Nation State of the Israeli Jewish People.” Sounds peculiar doesn’t it? It leaves something out doesn’t it? (Both Israelis who are not Jews and Jews who are not Israelis.) An awkward thing it is. But it’s really what you are asking for.

        Look, it’s all been written out in an elegant 12-point plan:

        “Find me a Palestinian leader who would be willing to start negotiations on the basis of two states for two peoples”? Using Gershon Baskin’s plan, Mahmoud Abbas would be willing. What’s not to like? 

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “If you said “homeland for (not nation state of) the Jewish people” and “homeland for (not nation state of) the Palestinian people” that would defuse a lot of the slipperiness of terms.”

          Seeing Ben brought up the term “whack on the head”, I will demonstrate how easy it is to do that to Ben’s deluded BS.

          First of all, UN Resolution 181 voted in favor of two states, one JEWISH state and one ARAB state. The only mention of “the Palestinian people” was in the context of how the majority of the Jews of Palestine would live in the Jewish state while the majority of the Arabs of Palestine would live in the Arab state. Any one can google this fact and check for themselves.

          Secondly: Ben demonstrates with his answer what Barzel said. That Ben (and others here) invert reality. Ben and the Arabs are the ones who refuse to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people while they expect us to recognise “Palestine”. Nothing doing! Either mutual recognition or no recognition. Most of us Israelis would prefer the former but we can live with the latter as long as we have to.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “whack on the head”

            Say what?

            “Either mutual recognition or no recognition.”

            This sounds confused. Conceptually, “Israel” is equivalent to “Palestine,” and “Nation State of the Jewish People” is equivalent to “Nation State of the Arab People.” But the Palestinians are not demanding any such recognition. What you are honestly asking for is to be recognized as “The Nation State of the Israeli Jewish People.” (And/or “Jewish Israeli People.” ) This has problems. Sorry, I can’t pretend, for the sake of your nationalistic-ethnotribal feelings, that reality is something different than what it is. Remember, contrary to the incessant disinformation put out by Israel, Mahmoud Abbas did not say that Palestine must be “judenrein,” he said illegal Israeli settlers could not stay as ex-territorial enclaves where residents maintained their Israeli citizenship status.

            Palestinians: Yes to Jews, no to settlers in our state

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “But the Palestinians are not demanding any such recognition.”

            Hey man, don’t blame me, I am just responding to this article. Have you read the title of this article? Here it is. Just for your benefit:

            “Israel has yet to recognize the Palestinian people”

            “What you are honestly asking for is to be recognized as “The Nation State of the Israeli Jewish People.” (And/or “Jewish Israeli People.” )”

            Nope, it is nothing as complicated as that. We ask that the Palestinian Arabs recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. That they should recognise that we are a people with our own state and in which an Arab minority is acceptable but not an Arab majority.

            So, let me repeat again. Mutual recognition. We recognise the Arabs of Palestine as a people with their own state in which they are a majority and they recognise Israel as the Jewish majority state. Simple enough for you?

            Of course if they don’t want to, then we don’t have to either? Get it? No? Then don’t worry about it. Most reasonable people will get what I am saying. And I am talking mainly to them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​But most reasonable people will not get what you are saying because it’s nonsense, you elude every salient point, and you left untouched every element of my argument. Case closed.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Case closed”

            Yep, but not the way you think. Congratulating yourself and declaring victory does not make your case. I answered every point of yours and then some.

            Now the case IS closed.

            Reply to Comment
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