I caught part of Tony Blair's
Sunday sermon monthly press conference on CSPAN the other day, specifically the part in which he was explaining - condescendingly, as if to a none-too-bright eight year old - that of course the U.K. is eager to help the Israelis and Palestinians return to negotiations, but that won't be possible until Hamas recognises Israel, as it is patently obvious that you can't have talks on a two state solution if one party doesn't recognise the right of the other to exist.
Naturally, he didn't mention the fact that over 10 years ago the P.L.O. recognised Israel's right to exist on 78% of historic Palestine, and in return got no recognition from Israel of Palestine's right to exist on the remaining 22% (or anywhere else for that matter). In fact, all the P.L.O. got for its trouble was a doubling in the number of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories during the Oslo period, as Israel banked the Palestinian recognition of its right to 78% of the land, and then went on to see how much of the remainder it could grab.
Mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine will come about formally as a result of final status talks. Anybody who wants to make recognition a prerequisite for those talks isn't really interested in recognition per se, but in finding preconditions for avoiding talks and proceeding unilaterally. Hamas knows very well that the P.L.O.'s recognition of Israel did not bring recognition of Palestine in return, but simply turned out to be one of a long line of preconditions that Israel periodically comes up with to avoid having to engage in meaningful talks. First the P.L.O. had to recognise Israel's right to exist. Then the goalposts moved slightly, and the P.L.O. was required to recognise the right of Israel to exist "as a Jewish state". And next, we heard from Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu and Ra'anan Gissin that the P.L.O. has to recognise the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and recognise that it was morally correct to partition Palestine to create a Jewish state in 1947....
You can see the same manoeuvre at work in the "first they must condemn terrorism, then we'll talk" precondition that has been used to avoid returning to negotiations over the past five years. First it was "they must condemn terrorism". And then when the PA condemned every attack on civilians, this changed to "But they're doing it in English; it doesn't count until they say it in Arabic". But then when Mahmoud Abbas went on the record and denounced the Palestinians' resort to arms in a statement to the leading Arabic daily Dar al-Hayat in December 2004, that wasn't good enough either: all that got him was a cynical comment from an unidentified Israeli official who told Ha'aretz that Dar al-Hayat is based in London, now let him say it in Ramallah...
The point - which Hamas recognises very well - is that the purpose of these preconditions is nothing to do with recognition of Israel or ending "terrorism". The real game is this: Israel basically has all the land, and thinks it has the military might to retain control over it - albeit indirectly in Gaza and the proposed West Bank "tribal homelands". Therefore, Israel sees little to gain from returning to final status talks aimed at establishing two independent states. So it sets preconditions - "first they must recognise Israel", "first they must denounce terror", "first there must be seven days of calm", "first they dismantle the infrastructure of terror" etc, etc... - so that it can refuse to negotiate and at the same time blame the Palestinians for the absence of negotiations. The only rule in this game is that it has no end: there must always be one more hoop for the Palestinians to jump through before Israel can sit down and talk seriously about ending the Occupation. In a game that is designed to be unwinnable, the closest that the Palestinians can come to winning is to decline to play in the first place, and that is what Hamas is doing.
Anyway, to get back to Tony Blair and why his condescension at his monthly press conference was so annoying. Michael Moore once said: "I personally hold Blair more responsible for this war in Iraq than I do George Bush, and the reason is Blair knows better. Blair is not an idiot. What is he doing hanging around this guy?" And I think he has a point. Whenever Bush says something hypocritical or just untrue, you have a nagging doubt at the back of your mind that perhaps it's not really his fault: perhaps he doesn't fully understand what he's saying because he really is just dumber than dirt. But Tony Blair doesn't have that excuse. Tony Blair is smart, and coherent and articulate. So when Tony Blair stands up at a press conference and says something hypocritical or untrue, it's not because he mis-spoke, or doesn't do nuance, it's simply that he's a hypocrite and a liar. Like, for instance, when he says that he'd love to get involved in reviving the peace process, but it's obvious that the refusal of one party to recognise the other is an insuperable obstacle to peace talks.
If refusal to recognise the other side's right to exist is such an obvious impediment to peace, how come Tony Blair never bothered to mention it any time during the last five years when Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel? For five years, Sharon led a Likud government whose party election platform had this to say about mutual recognition and the two state solution:
The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel's existence, security and national needs.
And as for the Likud's junior partners in government, this is where the National Religious Party stood on recognition of Palestinian national rights:
There will only be one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea - the State of Israel. No independent national Arab entity will exist within the limits of the Land of Israel. No part of Israel will be given over to a foreign government of authority.
No Palestinian state there: they can't even bring themselves to say that Palestinians exist as a national group, rather than as generic Arabs.
And as for the election manifesto of another government partner, the National Union:
[The National Union] Absolutely rejects the idea of a Palestinian state between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on ideological, historic and security grounds [and] Views the voluntary transfer of the Palestinian population to neighboring Arab countries (particularly Jordan with its 60% majority Palestinian population) as the only sustainable solution to the crisis in the Middle East.
So not only do they deny Palestine's right to exist, they also want the Palestinian people gone altogether!
All in all, there wasn't a lot of mutual recognition on display in the last two Israeli governments was there?
Tony Blair was British P.M. through the lifetimes of both those Likud administrations, and he didn't have a single word to say about their refusal to recognise the right of Palestine to exist, indeed their explicit denial of Palestinian self-determination. So, for five years it was no problem for him that the Israelis - who really do have the power to frustrate Palestinian nationhood through military might, unilateralism and facts on the ground - should refuse to recognise Palestine's right to exist. But now the Palestinian government is in the hands of Hamas - which for all its bluster is really not capable of pushing a single Jewish Israeli into the sea, never mind wiping Israel off the map - Tony Blair is suddenly shocked and appalled that one side in the I/P conflict should have to talk to an opponent that doesn't formally recognise it.
How about that. Tony Blair reveals himself to be a patronising, hypocritical windbag. What else is new?