Yaakov Herzog, an Israeli diplomat and intellectual who was also Golda Meir's closest adviser, was once invited by the BBC to take part in a symposium. The subject: How long will Israel survive? Herzog declined. In a polite but sarcastic letter of response he wrote that he would be delighted to participate in a symposium on how long the British Empire would survive. This anecdote, passed down over the years, has suddenly taken on new relevance since Hamas' victory in the Palestinian Authority elections.
This is not what the Americans and Europeans had in mind when they demanded democracy from the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is a bloodthirsty gang of Islamic fundamentalists whose charter, signed in 1998, after the Oslo Accords and after Arafat came to Israel, explicitly calls for Israel's destruction. It not only refuses to negotiate with Israel at any stage or under any circumstances, but refuses to recognize its existence.
Hamas' surprise electoral victory is a kick in the teeth to all who were hoping for a peace agreement. Now President Bush and the leaders of Europe are saying that if Hamas wants to be part of the government, it will have to recognize Israel's right to exist. The very idea that the whole world is down on its knees, begging a Koran-centric organization whose goals are achieved by murdering Jews to recognize Israel's right to exist, is insulting. Israel is the only state in the world that's been on the map for 58 years and still has no permanent borders. The establishment of Israel was declared in May 1948 on the strength of the UN Partition Plan - a proposal the Arabs rejected. They live with the miserable consequences of that decision until today. Within a day of Israel's Declaration of Independence, the two global superpowers recognized it. A year later, it was accepted as a member of the United Nations, the 51st country out of a total of 190. Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 170 of them.
Nevertheless, Israel is the only democracy in the world that has been fighting from the day it was born to safeguard its national security and to be recognized once and for all. It is frustrating and infuriating when fanatic, backward countries declare that Israel, one of the most stable, progressive democracies in the world, has no right to exist. It wasn't the president of Iran who invented the idea of shipping the Jews of Israel back to where they came from in Europe. Ahmed Shukeiry, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, beat him to it in a series of rabid interviews on Cairo Radio before the Six-Day War.
Israel doesn't need permission to exist, certainly not from the primitive, fundamentalist societies that live around it. Israel is perceived as one of the strongest, stablest, most technologically advanced countries in the world, not least in view of where it stands on the list of nuclear powers. So who is it, exactly, who thinks they can destroy us? Hamas? Hezbollah? Islamic Jihad? Why does Israel have to be in this situation altogether, pleading with the Arabs for recognition?
Many take off their hat to a nation that has spent decades confronting terrorism and war but has managed to chalk up incredible achievements in every sphere despite it all. When partners were found, Israel knew how to make the "peace of the brave" with its fiercest enemies, although it had to bend and make tremendous concessions. Israelis have stood up admirably and bravely in the face of suicide bombings and other acts of terror perpetrated by Islamic militants, dredging up the emotional strength to return to normal life after every blow.
The victory of Hamas is, first and foremost, the problem of the Palestinians themselves. Precisely now, when a political system is taking shape in Israel that has enough electoral clout to reach an agreement, it would be foolish for the Palestinians to wreck their chances again because of the rise of some fanatic party that is not prepared to accept Israel's existence, let alone speak to it.
Swayed by fundamentalism in one guise or another, the Palestinians have been paying for their obstinacy, their extremist policies and their mistakes for many decades. We will go on living and flourishing even without the recognition of Hamas. We don't need any favors.
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