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The current negotiations between Israel and us Palestinians are essentially over. The whole episode was probably never going to yield anything real, but it was fun while it lasted.
We have witnessed the normal maneuvers by all the parties involved. The Americans said both sides needed to make compromises, while implicitly blaming the Palestinians for the failures. The Palestinians said that Israel’s settlement building and continued discriminatory practices show that she is not serious about peace, all the while trying to cozy up more to the Americans, even getting a White House trip out of the deal. And Israel got to harp about terrorism and gutless Palestinian leadership, as her leaders peppered newscasts talking about annexation of the West Bank.
None of this was shocking to us. In fact, we Palestinians are surprised by almost nothing. Living with Israel already means living in a world where the bizarre is ordinary. It means existing in an alternate reality. Nothing stuns us. Many of those who have spoken to Palestinians might have observed this phenomenon. In fact, I am sure the following conversation took place many times over the past few weeks:
Non-Palestinian: Isn’t it crazy how that Malaysian plane just disappeared?
Palestinian: Not really.
Non-Palestinian: How can you say that?
Palestinian: Well, my homeland just “disappeared” too, so nothing sounds crazy to me.
But this round of negotiations brought another curious (and quite odd) element into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. This time, Israel asked for something she has never asked for before. This time, she asked for something especially weird. This time, she asked, no, demanded, that in order for any talks to move forward, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Now, Israel has asked the Palestinian leadership for many things, and she has basically received them all, including denunciations of terrorism, the sidelining of opposition groups, and even general recognition. Palestinian leaders and negotiators like Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Nabil Shaath have basically capitulated to the American/Israeli discourse of discussions that are supposedly leading to a two-state solution, which just about every Palestinian knows will never happen. But even these lackeys can’t agree to this nonsense.
Also, we Palestinians have this pretty strong suspicion that Israel is not really interested in allowing us to have any sort of state at all, as evidenced by her continued land grabs, evictions, and confiscations, not to mention her incessant settlement activities.
So what is all this “recognize us the Jewish state” business really about? Is it a political ploy? Is Israel asking for something she knows the Palestinians will never give her just to put an end to this current round of talks? Some think that is the case. After all, what better way to kill the negotiations than to ask for something that is seemingly reasonable, only to have the Palestinians summarily reject it?
But what if that’s not the case at all? Why would Israel need our recognition of her as a Jewish state? She already gets this acknowledgement from the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, on a daily basis, unequivocally, from every politician, in every capacity. The declaration is a staple in the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties. They can’t find a way to make our healthcare system better than Colombia’s, or our education system better than New Zealand’s, but they can easily figure out how to agree on this pronouncement, which, incidentally, has not made Americans any healthier or smarter. Even Great Britain has gotten in on the act lately, with David Cameron calling Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people” during a trip there a couple of weeks ago.
With these two great powers on her side, what does Israel want with us? Why does she crave our recognition? Well, it’s because she doesn’t just want it. She needs it.
Israel can’t move on without us. She needs us to tell her that everything is okay, that her actions these past 66 years have been acceptable, and that it was our fault, not hers. No, this recognition business is not some political ruse. Rather, it goes to the heart of the whole thing. Israel needs us to recognize her as the Jewish state so that she can feel better about herself. The affirmation of every leader in the world won’t mean anything unless we say it too.
Have you ever seen a wife argue passionately with her husband? She argues her points, and he argues his. Usually, the husband eventually relents and tells her, “I give up. You win. We’ll have sushi for dinner.” But sometimes that’s not enough. She needs him to understand why she wants sushi, and why having sushi is just a better idea. She is not satisfied with winning the argument. She wants more. She needs more. She is not merely interested in his surrender. She needs his acquiescence, his agreement, and his consent. In other words, she needs his recognition.
Haven’t you ever wondered if a failed relationship was actually your fault or not? Well, Israel is wondering the same thing. Basically, she needs us to tell her the one thing we all want to hear: “It not you, it’s me.”
If you think I am describing Israel as some sort of damaged, controlling psycho who needs everyone to agree with her, you’d be right.
There is a bright side here, though. If Israel needs our approval, we are not as insignificant as we have been telling ourselves we are. Israel actually cares what we think!
So, if it will move things along, I’ll recognize Israel in whatever way she would like me to. I’ll tell her, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But just like everyone else who has ever uttered those words, I’m not going to mean it.
* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."