21 February 2007

The cognition trap

That headline above was rather a trap that Alex of False Dichotomies set for himself with that "The recognition trap" title in CIF. Usually well balanced, this time Alex, in my opinion, let his dreams about a peace settlement to get the better of his reasoning.

Condoleezza Rice is visiting Jerusalem, but nothing will change until the Quartet drops its demand for Hamas to accept Israel's right to exist.
This is the main premise of the article. To get there, Alex starts the buildup of the article from acceptance of the fact that recognition is the mandatory step in the peace process:
There are many reasons for the moribund state of Israeli-Palestinian relations at the moment, but the central issue is that of recognition. ... If the Palestinian government refuses to recognise Israel, it cannot expect Israel (and by extension many of Israel's allies) to deal with it.
No argument here, also I am even ready to go a step farther than Alex did: let's start the negotiations without a formal recognition, which will come as a mandatory step in the peace agreement time table. It could be defined as a first step in the future agreement or, knowing our neighbours, as a second - after cessation of all acts of violence.

However Alex is going one step further, dedicating the rest of the article to the issue of Palestinian recognition of Israeli right to exist which is, indeed, one of the Quartet prerequisites
to the start of negotiations on final settlement. To start with, Alex attacks the legal / formal part of this request:
But it's not that simple. The issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel has been deliberately conflated with another idea - that of Israel's "right to exist". This is an unknown concept in the international system, and seems to have been invented by Israel/America in the 1970s...
(I have deliberately omitted the rest of the sentence, since it contains a claim that is neither here not there and disregards the real chronology of the events besides.)

Then Alex builds a wobbly logical bridge, using the following statement:
Asking the Palestinians to accept the right of Israel to exist is akin to asking them to accept the moral legitimacy of its creation.
One can agree or disagree with the above (I, personally, disagree), it does not matter. What matters is that this doubtful logic is used to continue the analyses - not of the "right to exist", but of "legitimacy" (which is not mentioned as a term by anyone of powers that be - aside of CiF commenters and other raving anti-Israelis). Anyway, having successfully replaced "right to exist" by "legitimacy", Alex goes goes now into legitimacy and uses as a supporting source none other than Noam Chomsky - the last person I would refer to for support of any logical construction. But this is Alex's choice, so let's look at what Noam the Mastermind has to offer:
I don't think the notion of legitimacy of a state means very much. Is the United States a legitimate state? It's based on genocide; it conquered half of Mexico. What makes it legitimate? The way the international system is set up, states have certain rights; that has nothing to do with their legitimacy.
Indeed, Alex (Noam): states do have certain rights, and that has nothing to do with their legitimacy. Unfortunately, that sound bite has nothing to do with the "right to exist" (or with little else, for that matter), so it was just a bit of a wasted space. Unless the quote was brought up to strengthen the article by the fact of its presence, it is immaterial to the issue at hand.

Let's cut to the chase, Alex and admit that you are fighting a strawman here. Had Hamas declared that it does recognise the State of Israel and is ready to stop the violence, no excuses and no amount of American pressure would have worked to delay the negotiations. You and I know it. Hamas would not have even to mention the infamous "right to exist". As you know (I hope), all it took Arafat to get his exalted statesman status was a verbal statement of recognition, not even followed up by a real change in the Fatah paperwork.

Another point is that the right of a state to exist is rather an easier bar to jump over than that of recognition. Recognition implies an agreement to the other party's existence, if you use some elementary logic: one cannot recognise what does not have a right to exits, can one?

Back to that "invention" of the right to exist by Israel/US in the seventies. You are falling into the trap many blind pro-Palestinian supporters fall, that of detaching the present from the past. I would dare say that in the seventies, when Arafat was at the peak of his "throw the Zionists into the sea" histrionics, the question of right to exist had some relevance. As it has now, with Hamas regressing to the same position. But again, the act of recognition would have made it irrelevant. Since recognition is hardly forthcoming, I have to agree with this:
If this is the case, then the Palestinian tragedy looks set to continue.
Too bad.