Recognition of sovereignty

One of the criteria defining a state as being independent is the recognition by other states that it is a state. Simply declaring yourself independent or being granting independence is not enough. Rhodesia is an example of the former and the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa such as the Transkei are an example of the later. So it is not surprising that Israel has always strived and sought for other states to recognize her sovereignty and to establish diplomatic relations with them.

This is not as easy as it sounds. A general trend has been that the further the other state is from Israel the less interest it has, political or otherwise, in taking sides in the Israel-Arab-Palestine conflict. So the more likely it has been in recognizing Israel and in establishing diplomatic relations. The Pacific Ocean island state of Kiribati is an example. Diplomatic relations doesn’t’ mean that two states need to have Ambassadors resident in each other’s states so the financial costs of diplomatic friendship are not high.

On the other hand the closer that the other state is to Israel the more likely it is not to recognize Israel and the more likely it is not to establish diplomatic relations. So the 30 or so states that don’t recognize Israel are predominately Middle East and / or Muslim states. Of Israel’s four neighbors only two, Egypt and Jordan recognize Israel. The other two neighbors Lebanon and Syria don’t. Neither do all representatives of the Palestinians. Recognition of Israel is one of the conditions that Israel requests for any peace treaty and in negotiations with the Palestinians.

As easy as it is to establish diplomatic relations so as easy it is to break them. Breaking diplomatic relations doesn’t mean ceasing to recognize Israel as an independent state. This week Nicaragua reestablished diplomatic relations. Many African states broke off diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 Six Day War but then reestablished them in the 1980s and 1990s.

Having or lacking diplomatic relations and recognizing or not recognizing a state as independent has no bearing whatsoever on business. Trade goes as if borders of states didn’t exist. Fruit and vegetables are just one type of produce that have always been traded between Israel and her neighbors, in war and peace. As has technology especially notable when looking at the irrigation systems used in Saudi Arabia but clearly designed and even manufactured in Israel. This is not surprising as Saudi Arabia is almost a neighbor on the Red Sea south of Eilat.

Recognition of sovereignty hit the headlines this week because of threats of a general election for the Knesset. The Prime Minister was identified as also being the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he is.  He is apparently doing an excellent job in this role. Not only did he reestablish diplomatic ties with Nicaragua but he has also reached out to strengthen Israel’s foreign policy with Israel’s closest diplomatic ally, the United States of America. That is to say after the 2016 elections in the USA and a new American President.

Being recognized and even more so being recognized favorably by the President in the White House counter-balances not being recognized by the neighbors Lebanon and Syria! But nevertheless it would be nice to be recognized by these, if only their leaders could accurately claim to be leaders of sovereign states and not puppets of others or lacking the authority and legitimacy of the population.

The domestic situation in Lebanon and Syria, the international involvement in them, and their failed state status highlights that Israel needs to be recognized, to establish diplomatic ties and to actively befriend the neighbors of her neighbors. If Israel has strong working relations with Turkey, Sudan, Libya, and Kuwait to name a few that means a sort-of sandwich situation emerges. In the middle of the sandwich is Israel’s failed state neighbor.

This suggestion is not new. It has been referred to as Ben-Gurion’s peripheral policy. In theory and in practice in the past the peripheral policy worked well if the other state is a democracy. There is continuity in policy when leaders change. In practice it tended to be weak when the other state is not a democracy. For example Iran and Israel had diplomatic ties and recognized each other until the regime changed in Teheran.

Nevertheless it is a starting point so may I suggest that next on the agenda for Bibi as Foreign Minister is to turn to the peripheral policy of Ben-Gurion? That is to say work on improving relations with Turkey, and in establishing relations with Sudan and Kuwait. In doing so the sandwich pressure will no doubt be applied on Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians that will make it easier for them to recognize Israel.  And the rest will follow naturally!


About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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