Do I really have to pay escrow?
Paying this year doesn't guarantee you will pay next year and the year after. They collect money in advance as a safety for them. Generally, that includes money for insurance as well as taxes.
It makes sense that a lender would need a guarantee that the taxes and insurance are paid. If the place was "taken" for back taxes, or if it burned down, how would the lender ever get you to continue to pay the mortgage for the next 30 years?
Of course, there are lenders out there who might allow for the buyer to pay his/her own taxes, but usually that is based upon due diligence findings that the buyer has good credit and no history of financial failure.