A principle obstacle to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are frequently told, is Palestinian rejection of Israel’s “right to exist”. Recently, for example, this matter has reared its head as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for a referendum calling for a “two-state solution” to the conflict, while Hamas, which defeated Abbas’ Fatah party in January’s elections, has rejected the idea since it would implicitly recognize Israel’s “right to exist”.
Any rejection of this “right to exist”, regarded as an axiom in political statements and in the media, is usually grounds for demonization, the phrase “anti-Semitism” often brandied about in response to the very act of even questioning the assumption. But while it is regarded as a self-evident truth that Israel has this “right”, the same right is denied to the Palestinians (instructively, no one argues that it’s “anti-Semitic”—Arabs are also Semites—or “anti-Arab” to do so).
While Palestinians are told they won’t be negotiated with (i.e., the illegal occupation will continue) until they recognize Israel’s “right to exist”, no similar demands are placed upon Israel to recognize the right of any Palestinian state to exist as a prerequisite for diplomacy. This inconsistency, patently racist in nature, is prevalent, and often accepted without the slightest consideration.
But racism and hypocrisy aside for the moment, even less often regarded (much less questioned) is the validity of the premise to begin with. Is it really a truism that a nation may have a “right to exist”? What does this mean? Do the United States, for example, also have this “right to exist”? If so, does that not mean that the tribal nations pre-existing the States had not had that same right? Are the “rights” of these different peoples not mutually exclusive, and is the notion not therefore invalid? Would not asserting such a “right” simply serve as an attempt to legitimize or justify the confiscation of land and the expelling of the people who had once lived on that land?
But we can’t change history, and facts on the ground count for something. Israel recognizes this quite clearly, which is why it makes such a great effort to alter the facts on the ground to serve more in its favor—illegal settlements, for example. This raises further questions. Suppose we do accept as an axiom that Israel has a “right to exist”. What does this mean? Does this right refer to the Israel of the original UN mandate, or to the pre-1967 Israel, or to idea of some “greater” Israel including the Palestinian territories? Which “Israel” do we speak of when we say it has a “right to exist”? Which “Israel” are Palestinians, people living under foreign military occupation, required to recognize the rights of before discussions of “peace” can even begin? If “greater” Israel is referred to, would not recognition of its “right to exist” constitute negation of the right for any Palestinian nation to exist and serve to legitimize the occupation?
Even such an elementary examination of the “right to exist”, just asking the most obvious questions, without digging any further, serves to illustrate the meaninglessness of the phrase. Let us depart from convention, therefore, and hypothesize an alternative framework for discussion. Nations, it should be needless to say, are not people. Nations, therefore, have no “rights”, except insofar as that by “nation” we actually refer to the body of the people of that nation.
Discarding the old and recognizing this new axiom, we might therefore conclude that the Israeli people most certainly have a “right to exist” (as do the Palestinian people). But we might also recognize that this does not mean any particular nation, be it named “Israel” or “Palestine” or “Never Never Land”, for that matter, has such a “right to exist”. Only by dong so may the alternative truism, that all people have an equal share in the right to self-determination, manifest itself—the very right denied to the Palestinian people.
Where does this leave us? Well, simply put, it leaves us in a place where nations are not required to recognize the “right” of any other nations to exist before negotiations for an end to the violence can even begin. Rather, it might be recognized by one nation that another does exist, if that is the fact of the matter, or pretended that they don’t exist, if self-imposed delusion is found to be more suitable for whatever reason. Israel, like it or not, does exist, and the Palestinian leadership may choose to either recognize this fact, as they do, or ignore it. Similarly, Israeli leaders may choose to either recognize that the Palestinian territories do exist and that those territories are not part of Israel, or ignore that fact, as they so often do.
It also leaves us in a place where the right to self-determination is applied equally, regardless of race, religion, or any other discriminating factor. That this framework is rejected, and an alternative, hypocritical and racist in nature, is accepted without the slightest thought, speaks volumes both about the effectiveness of Western propaganda systems and the willingness of so many to be deceived.