The Dark Side of Recognition. Mutual Exclusiveness of Passive and Active Recognition in the Middle East Conflict

Originally published in May 201517250932

Proponents of the declaratory and the constitutive theory of recognition differ in their understanding of what comes first: statehood or recognition. While according to the declaratory theory, states are created because they fulfill certain criteria of statehood and hence should be recognized, according to the constitutive theory, recognition calls states into being: “Does one state’s formal recognition of another state simply declare a state of affairs that is legally significant because objective conditions for the constitution of some entity as a state have already been met? Or does the act of recognition by itself constitute the state as a state in law and thus a state in relation to other states? An affirmative answer to either question implies a negative answer to the other.” (Onuf, 2013: 122)

The question underlying the dispute between declaratory and constitutive theory can be seen in a more general light: “[I]s recognition a response to something that already exists, or does it bring something new into being?” (Bartelson, 2013: 109). The dispute over Palestinian unity and the divide between Fatah and Hamas can be pinpointed with this question. Arguably, Palestinian unity is essential for Palestinian statehood. However, instead of asking whether recognition or unity comes first, both have to be analyzed in combination. Thus, Nicholas Onuf has argued that the “declaratory-constitutive binary is grossly misleading” (2013: 122). Instead of focusing on this binary, analyzing recognition and the condition for Palestinian statehood – Palestinian unity – in combination can be achieved by differentiating between actively recognizing someone and passively being recognized by someone. While in the Hegelian view recognition has to be mutual, the reciprocity of recognition can be differentiated into passive and active recognition. As the case studies will demonstrate, the conditions for active recognition by the Palestinians are different from the conditions for their passive recognition by Israel.

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