David Rothkopf

How would they feel about calling it the not-so-Islamic Republic of Iran?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triumphantly tours southern Lebanon and says to cheering crowds of thousands, "The occupying Zionists today have no choice but to accept reality and go back to their countries of origin." He predicts Israel will disappear. Not too far away, families enjoy the happy diversions of the latest tourist attraction, the Magic Kingdom of ...

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triumphantly tours southern Lebanon and says to cheering crowds of thousands, "The occupying Zionists today have no choice but to accept reality and go back to their countries of origin." He predicts Israel will disappear. Not too far away, families enjoy the happy diversions of the latest tourist attraction, the Magic Kingdom of sectarian warfare called, "Tourist Landmark of the Resistance" in South Lebanon. There they play on captured Israeli weapons and buy souvenir caps and T-shirts.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a column by Roger Cohen, in which he asserted that however odious Ahmadinejad may seem, he’s really nothing to worry about. Why? Because Cohen doesn’t think he is, that’s why. Surely, one must conclude, he would dismiss these Lebanon antics — rabble-rousing at one of the world’s most dangerous frontiers — as more showboating from his favorite "all hat and no cattle" "paper tiger." Pshaw. Silly frivolous Hezbollah-sponsoring Mahmoud.

And then, in the midst of this, comes a rather different New York Times op-ed, this one from Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who offers a calm, well-reasoned, and compelling argument as to why the Palestinians should recognize Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. But for all Oren’s heartfelt and coolly-argued reason, even coupled with his exceptionally well-turned phrases, nothing he writes makes his case as persuasively as the combination of the provocations of the president of Israel’s most dangerous enemy and the efforts by glib U.S. elites to shrug him off.

As unproductive as the Israeli stance on settlements has been the Palestinian stance on the nature of the Israeli state, and its ability to continue operations as conceived and sanctioned by the United Nations nearly six and a half decades into its modern existence is just as unconstructive and indefensible. The core concept of the existence of two states, central to any real and lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma, requires acceptance of the sovereignty and self-determination of those states. Neither side can expect a hand in the shaping of the societies within their neighbor’s borders.

Indeed, the concept of accepting Israel involves accepting its Jewishness or, as Oren points out, it invites the demographic negation of virtually everything associated with Israel’s own concept of itself thanks to Israel’s commitment to democracy. To fail to acknowledge this would be the same as accepting the idea of a Palestinian state, but then imposing upon it borders that made its economic self-sufficiency impossible.

Peace requires moving past such destructive argumentative approaches. Clearly, we are not near to that point. Which is why Mr. Ahmadinejad is hardly "all hat and no cattle." His grandstanding and inflaming crowds on Israel’s borders with the language of obliteration is not just rhetoric. It is part of a systematic and thus far effective effort to exacerbate dangers and, not secondarily, to prolong the misery of the Palestinian people whose right to a free, independent state created in their own image is, of course, every bit as great as that of the Israelis.

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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