Yet again, the Annapolis meeting between Olmert and Abbas is preconditioned upon the recognition by the Palestinian side of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed the “road map” should lead to, and legitimate, once and for all, the right of such a Jewish state to exist in definitive borders and in peace with its neighbours. The vision of justice, both past and future, simply has to be that of two states, one Palestinian, one Jewish, which would coexist side by side in peace and stability. Finding a formula for a reasonably just partition and separation is still the essence of what is considered to be moderate, pragmatic and fair ethos.
Thus, the really deep issues–the “core”–are conceived as the status of Jerusalem, the fate and future of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and the viability of the future Palestinian state beside the Jewish one. The fate of the descendants of those 750,000 Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 from what is now, and would continue to be under a two-state solutions, the State of Israel, constitutes a “problem” but never an “issue” because, God forbid, to make it an issue on the table would be to threaten the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The existence of Israel as a Jewish state must never become a core issue. That premise unites political opinion in the Jewish state, left and right and also persists as a pragmatic view of many Palestinians who would prefer some improvement to no improvement at all. Only “extremists” such as Hamas, anti-Semites, and Self-Hating Jews–terribly disturbed, misguided and detached lot–can make Israel’s existence into a core problem and in turn into a necessary issue to be debated and addressed.
The Jewish state, a supposedly potential haven for all the Jews in the world in the case a second Holocaust comes about, should be recognised as a fact on the ground blackmailed into the “never again” rhetoric. All considerations of pragmatism and reasonableness in envisioning a “peace process” to settle the ‘Israeli/Palestinian’ conflict must never destabilise the sacred status of that premise that a Jewish state has a right to exist.
Notice, however, that Palestinians are not asked merely to recognise the perfectly true fact and with it, the absolutely feasible moral claim, that millions of Jewish people are now living in the State of Israel and that their physical existence, liberty and equality should be protected in any future settlement. They are not asked merely to recognise the assurance that any future arrangement would recognise historic Palestine as a home for the Jewish People. What Palestinians are asked to subscribe to is recognition of the right of an ideology that informs the make-up of a state to exist as a Jewish one. They are asked to recognise that ethno-nationalistic premise of statehood.
The fallacy is clear: the recognition of the right of Jews who are there–however unjustly many of their Parents or Grandparents came to acquire what they own–to remain there under liberty and equality in a post-colonial political settlement, is perfectly compatible with the non-recognition of the state whose constitution gives those Jews a preferential stake in the polity.
It is an abuse of the notion of pragmatism to conceive its effort as putting the very notion of Jewish state beyond the possible and desirable implementation of egalitarian moral scrutiny. To so abuse pragmatism would be to put it at the service of the continuation of colonialism. A pragmatic and reasonable solution ought to centre on the problem of how to address past, present, and future injustices to non-Jew-Arabs without thereby causing other injustices to Jews. This would be a very complex pragmatic issue which would call for much imagination and generosity. But reasonableness and pragmatism should not determine whether the cause for such injustices be included or excluded from debates or negotiations. To pragmatically exclude moral claims and to pragmatically protect immoral assertions by fiat must in fact hide some form of extremism. The causes of colonial injustice and the causes that constitutionally prevent their full articulation and address should not be excluded from the debate. Pragmatism can not become the very tool that legitimates constitutional structures that hinder de-colonisation and the establishment of an egalitarian constitution.
So let us boldly ask: What exactly is entailed by the requirement to recognise Israel as a Jewish state? What do we recognise and support when we purchase a delightful avocado or a date from Israel or when we invite Israel to take part in an international football event? What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What precisely is that Jewish state whose status as such would be once and for all legitimised by such a two-state solution?
A Jewish state is a state which exists more for the sake of whoever is considered Jewish according to various ethnic, tribal, religious, criteria, than for the sake of those who do not pass this test. What precisely are the criteria of the test for Jewishness is not important and at any rate the feeble consensus around them is constantly reinvented in Israel. Instigating violence provides them with the impetus for doing that. What is significant, though, is that a test of Jewishness is being used in order to constitutionally protect differential stakes in, that is the differential ownership of, a polity. A recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is a recognition of the Jew’s special entitlement, as eternal victims, to have a Jewish state. Such a test of supreme stake for Jews is the supreme criterion not only for racist policy making by the legislature but also for a racist constitutional interpretation by the Supreme Court. The idea of a state that is first and foremost for the sake of Jews trumps even that basic law of Human Freedom and Dignity to which the Israeli Supreme Court pays so much lip service. Such constitutional interpretation would have to make the egalitarian principle, equality of citizenship, compatible with, and thus subservient to, the need to maintain the Jewish majority and character of the state. This of course constitutes a serious compromise of equality, translated into many individual manifestations of oppression and domination of those victims of such compromise–non-Jews-Arabs citizens of Israel.
In our world, a world that resisted Apartheid South Africa so impressively, recognition of the right of the Jewish state to exist is a litmus test for moderation and pragmatism. The demand is that Palestinians recognise Israel’s entitlement to constitutionally entrench a system of racist basic laws and policies, differential immigration criteria for Jews and non-Jews, differential ownership and settlement rights, differential capital investments, differential investment in education, formal rules and informal conventions that differentiate the potential stakes of political participation, lame-duck academic freedom and debate.
In the Jewish state of Israel non-Jews-Arabs citizens are just “bad luck” and are considered a ticking demographic bomb of “enemy within”. They can be given the right to vote–indeed one member one vote–but the potential of their political power, even their birth rate, should be kept at bay by visible and invisible, instrumental and symbolic, discrimination. But now they are asked to put up with their inferior stake and recognise the right of Israel to continue to legitimate the non-egalitarian premise of its statehood.
We must not forget that the two state “solution” would open a further possibility to non-Jew-Arabs citizens of Israel: “put up and shut up or go to a viable neighbouring Palestinian state where you can have your full equality of stake”. Such an option, we must never forget, is just a part of a pragmatic and reasonable package.
The Jewish state could only come into being in May 1948 by ethnically cleansing most of the indigenous population–750,000 of them. The judaisation of the state could only be effectively implemented by constantly internally displacing the population of many villages within the Israel state.
It would be unbearable and unreasonable to demand Jews to allow for the Right of Return of those descendants of the expelled. Presumably, those descendants too could go to a viable Palestinian state rather than, for example, rebuild their ruined village in the Galilee. On the other hand, a Jewish young couple from Toronto who never set their foot in Palestine has a right to settle in the Galilee. Jews and their descendants hold this right in perpetuity. You see, that right “liberates” them as people. Jews must never be put under the pressure to live as a substantial minority in the Holy Land under egalitarian arrangement. Their past justifies their preferential stake and the preservation of their numerical majority in Palestine.
So the non-egalitarian hits us again. It is clear that part of the realisation of that right of return would not only be just the actual return, but also the assurance of equal stake and citizenship of all, Jews and non-Jews-Arabs after the return. A return would make the egalitarian claim by those who return even more difficult to conceal than currently with regard to Israel Arab second class citizens. What unites Israelis and many world Jews behind the call for the recognition of the right of a Jewish state to exist is their aversion for the possibility of living, as a minority, under conditions of equality of stake to all. But if Jews enjoys this equality in Canada why can not they support such equality in Palestine through giving full effect to the right of Return of Palestinians?
Let us look precisely at what the pragmatic challenge consists of: not pragmatism that entrenches inequality but pragmatism that responds to the challenge of equality.
The Right of Return of Palestinians means that Israel acknowledges and apologises for what it did in 1948. It does mean that Palestinian memory of the 1948 catastrophe, the Nakbah, is publicly revived in the Geography and collective memory of the polity. It does mean that Palestinians descendants would be allowed to come back to their villages. If this is not possible because there is a Jewish settlement there, they should be given the choice to found an alternative settlement nearby. This may mean some painful compulsory state purchase of agricultural lands that should be handed back to those who return. In cases when this is impossible they ought to be allowed the choice to settle in another place in the larger area or if not possible in another area in Palestine. Compensation would be the last resort and would always be offered as a choice. This kind of moral claim of return would encompass all Palestine including Tel Aviv.
At no time, however, it would be on the cards to throw Israeli Jews from the land. An egalitarian and pragmatic realisation of the Right of Return constitutes an egalitarian legal revolution. As such it would be paramount to address Jews’ worries about security and equality in any future arrangement in which they, or any other group, may become a minority. Jewish national symbols and importance would be preserved. Equality of stake involves equality of symbolic ownership.
But it is important to emphasize that the Palestinian Right of Return would mean that what would cease to exist is the premise of a Jewish as well as indeed a Muslim state. A return without the removal of the constitutionally enshrined preferential stake is a return to serfdom.
The upshot is that only by individuating cases of injustice, by extending claims for injustice to all historic Palestine, by fair address of them without creating another injustice for Jews and finally by ensuring the elimination of all racist laws that stem from the Jewish nature of the state including that nature itself, would justice be, and with it peace, possible. What we need is a spirit of generosity that is pragmatic but also morally uncompromising in terms of geographic ambit of the moral claims for repatriation and equality. This vision would propel the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But for all this to happen we must start by ceasing to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. No spirit of generosity would be established without an egalitarian call for jettisoning the ethno-nationalistic notion upon which the Jewish state is based.
The path of two states is the path of separation. Its realisation would mean the entrenchment of exclusionary nationalism for many years. It would mean that the return of the dispossessed and the equality of those who return and those non-Jew-Arabs who are now there would have to be deferred indefinitely consigned to the dusty shelves of historical injustices. Such a scenario is sure to provoke more violence as it would establish the realisation and legitimisation of Zionist racism and imperialism.
Also, any bi-national arrangement ought to be subjected to a principle of equality of citizenship and not vice versa. The notion of separation and partition that can infect bi-nationalism, should be done away with and should not be tinkered with or rationalised in any way. Both spiritually and materially Jews and non-Jews can find national expression in a single egalitarian and non-sectarian state.
The non-recognition of the Jewish state is an egalitarian imperative that looks both at the past and to the future. It is the uncritical recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state which is the core hindrance for this egalitarian premise to shape the ethical challenge that Palestine poses. A recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state means the silencing that would breed more and more violence and bloodshed.
The same moral intuition that brought so many people to condemn and sanction Apartheid South Africa ought also to prompt them to stop seeing a threat to existence of the Jewish state as the effect caused by the refugee ‘problem” or by the “demographic threat” from the non-Jew-Arabs within it. It is rather the other way round. It is the non-egalitarian premise of a Jewish state and the lack of empathy and corruption of all those who make us uncritically accept the right of such a state to exist that is both the cause of the refugee problem and cause for the inability to implement their return and treating them as equals thereafter.
We must see that the uncritically accepted recognition of Israel’s right to exist is, as Joseph Massad so well puts it in Al-Ahram, to accept Israel’s claim to have the right to be racist or, to develop Massad’s brilliant formulation, Israel’s claim to have the right to occupy to dispossess and to discriminate. What is it, I wonder, that prevents Israelis and so many of the world’s Jews from responding to the egalitarian challenge? What is it, I wonder, that oppresses the whole world to sing the song of a “peace process” that is destined to legitimise racism in Palestine?
To claim such a right to be racist must come from a being whose victim’s face must hide very dark primordial aggression and hatred of all others. How can we find a connective tissue to that mentality that claims the legitimate right to harm other human beings? How can this aggression that is embedded in victim mentality be perturbed?
The Annapolis meeting is a con. As an egalitarian argument we should say loud and clear that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.
Only a single egalitarian and non sectrarian state over all the whole of historic Palestine will achieve justice and peace.
OREN BEN-DOR grew up in Israel. He teaches Legal and Political Philosophy at the School of Law, University of Southampton, UK. He can be reached at: email@example.com
- Israel’s right or not to exist – The facts and truth (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel’s ‘Right’ to Exist (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Excuse Me, But Israel Has No Right To Exist (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Still Jews only (alethonews.wordpress.com)
By Alan Hart | October 14, 2009
On Monday 12 October, Prime Minister Netanyahu opened the Knesset’s winter session by blasting the Goldstone Report that accuses Israel of committing war crimes and vowing that he would never allow Israelis be tried for them. But that was not his main message. It was an appeal, delivered I thought with a measure of desperation, to the “Palestinian leadership”, presumably the leadership of “President” Abbas and his Fatah cronies, leaders who are regarded by very many if not most Palestinians as American-and-Israeli stooges at best and traitors at worst.
Netanyahu again called on this leadership to agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, saying this was, and remains, the key to peace. And he went on and on and on about it.
“For 62 years the Palestinians have been saying ‘No’ to the Jewish state. I am once again calling upon our Palestinian neighbours – say ‘Yes’ to the Jewish state. Without recognition of the Israel as the state of the Jews we shall not be able to attain peace… Such recognition is a step which requires courage and the Palestinian leadership should tell its people the truth – that without this recognition there can be no peace… There is no alternative to Palestinian leaders showing courage by recognising the Jewish state. This has been and remains the true key to peace.”
As Ha’aretz noted in its report, Netanyahu’s demand for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state is for him “a way on ensuring recognition of Israel’s right to exist as opposed to merely recognising Israel” (my emphasis). This, as Ha’aretz added, is the recognition which Netanyahu and many other Israelis see as the real core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the name of pragmatism, willingness to “merely to recognise” Israel – meaning to accept and live in peace with an Israel inside its pre-June ’67 borders – has long been the formal Palestinian and all-Arab position. Why does it stop short of recognising Israel’s “right to exist”, and why, really, does it matter so much to Zionism that Palestinians recognise this right?
The answer is in the following.
According to history as written by the winner, Zionism, Israel was given its birth certificate and thus legitimacy by the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. This is propaganda nonsense.
- In the first place the UN without the consent of the majority of the people of Palestine did not have the right to decide to partition Palestine or assign any part of its territory to a minority of alien immigrants in order for them to establish a state of their own.
- Despite that, by the narrowest of margins, and only after a rigged vote, the UN General Assembly did pass a resolution to partition Palestine and create two states, one Arab, one Jewish, with Jerusalem not part of either. But the General Assembly resolution was only a proposal – meaning that it could have no effect, would not become policy, unless approved by the Security Council.
- The truth is that the General Assembly’s partition proposal never went to the Security Council for consideration. Why not? Because the U.S. knew that, if approved, it could only be implemented by force given the extent of Arab and other Muslim opposition to it; and President Truman was not prepared to use force to partition Palestine.
- So the partition plan was vitiated (became invalid) and the question of what the hell to do about Palestine – after Britain had made a mess of it and walked away, effectively surrendering to Zionist terrorism – was taken back to the General Assembly for more discussion. The option favoured and proposed by the U.S. was temporary UN Trusteeship. It was while the General Assembly was debating what do that Israel unilaterally declared itself to be in existence – actually in defiance of the will of the organised international community, including the Truman administration.
The truth of the time was that the Zionist state, which came into being mainly as a consequence of pre-planned ethnic cleansing, had no right to exist and, more to the point, could have no right to exist UNLESS … Unless it was recognised and legitimized by those who were dispossessed of their land and their rights during the creation of the Zionist state. In international law only the Palestinians could give Israel the legitimacy it craved.
And that legitimacy was the only thing the Zionists could not and cannot take from the Palestinians by force.
No wonder Prime Minister Netanyahu is more than a little concerned on this account.
Israel’s leaders have always known the truth summarised above. It’s time for the rest of the world to know it.
- Israel’s ‘Right’ to Exist (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Excuse Me, But Israel Has No Right To Exist (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Still Jews only (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Revisiting the Palestine question: An interview with Ilan Pappe (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A question of legitimacy
“For thousands of years, we Jews have been nourished and sustained by a yearning for our historic land. I, like many others, was raised with a deep conviction that the day would never come when we would have to relinquish parts of the land of our forefathers. I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people’s eternal and historic right to this entire land.” –Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in an address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, May 24, 2006
In 1947, the United Nations arrogantly attempted to give away Palestine by floating the non-binding Resolution 181. Although the resolution was accepted by the General Assembly, it was not accepted by both parties, which was legally necessary for the General Assembly’s recommendations to be implemented.
If it had been implemented it would have prepared the foundation for the creation in Palestine of an Arab state and a Jewish state. However, the Arab nations voted in a block against it and were joined by others. Altogether 13 nations, Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen voted against it. Ten nations, Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia abstained.
Following the rejection of the resolution by the Arabs, over 65,000 well-trained Zionist forces led by Jewish terrorist gangs — Irgun, Stern, and others — stormed Palestine armed with $12 million worth of armaments and were met by 25,000 Palestinian militia equipped with antiquated weapons, known as Al Nakba.
Following the take-over of Palestine, U.N. Resolution 194 mandated Israel to accept the Palestinian’s right to return to their homes, and own up to the fact that “compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.” That too was ignored and Israel’s legitimacy hung on it.
Later came the Six-Day-War (1967), which resulted in the Occupation — the complete takeover of what remained of historic Palestine — and the fulfillment of the Zionist claim to their so-called 2,000-year-old Biblical birthright.
It is a serious violation of international law to acquire territory by force. Indeed, the case against the Nazis during the Nuremburg Trials asserted that the rationale behind their acquisitions was to acquire territories already inhabited by so-called “racial Germans” and those it needed as additional living space for “racial Germans” — all at the expense of other countries. This indictment echoes the Zionist/Israel defense of its claim to historic Palestine by “racial Jews” and its subsequent actions which include hundreds, if not thousands, of crimes against humanity, such as their nonstop deadly raids into Gaza and the West Bank, hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks, the illegal construction of the racist, Apartheid Wall and the current ethnic cleansing of Arab-Israeli citizens within the Negev.
The basic fact is Israel was created in violation of international law and remains so. Israel’s illegitimacy is the point that Hamas asserts and which the world is starving and economically boycotting the Palestinians to force them to reject — by demanding they recognize Israel’s right to exist. (These tactics also violate international law — threatening genocide to force Palestinians to accept what is false.)
Has any other nation on the planet gone to such lengths to get a group to recognize their right to exist? If Israel were comfortable with its claim of legitimacy, Hamas’ stance would be a non-issue, a joke to be ignored. But Hamas persists in not recognizing this “right,” which has little to do with “wiping them off the face of the earth,” and everything to do with recognizing their legitimacy.
Israel takes the threat from Hamas so seriously that Olmert is risking what until now has been sacrosanct — Israel’s security — by arming Fateh, the party of their former nemesis, Yasser Arafat. The further irony is that Hamas has posed NO security risk to Israel in over 16 months, since declaring and abiding by the truce which Israel has broken thousands of times with the non-stop shelling of Gaza and its incursions into the West Bank, all of which has resulted in hundreds of Palestinian lives lost and thousands of injuries.
Barring entry into Gaza, depriving Palestinians of food and medicine, enforcing a financial boycott of the government, which have also led to starvation and violence, is another example of Israel’s as well as America’s and the EU’s violation of Article 33 of the Forth Geneva Convention prohibiting collective punishment and attempted genocide. Meanwhile, Fateh continues to lob Quassam rockets into Israel and to create chaos within Gaza and the West Bank. Yet, it is Fateh that is being armed by Israel. So who’s kidding who?
Israel has been “recognized” by nations across the globe but that does not change the fact that it operates outside of international law — as is obvious to all who pay attention. The solution is for Israel to operate within the law through a one state solution. But Zionists reject the obvious solution. Instead they implement the propaganda strategy that emphasizes their so-called Biblical birthright and their god given right to exist as a Jewish state. Somehow, these claims are supposed to convey legitimacy. But it is all a great hoax.
Based on scholarship, widely publicized in books such as Arthur Koestler’s “The Thirteenth Tribe,” historic records demonstrate that the Ashkenazi Jews converted and are not descendants of the ancient Hebrews. This is backed by DNA analysis that has consistently demonstrated that they are not a so-called Diaspora.
One recent study involved over 1,000 Ashkenazi Jews in 67 countries. Over 60 percent had NO Middle Eastern ancestry. The remaining 40 percent showed genetic markers indicating that four women of Middle Eastern descent had entered the Ashkenazi gene pool over a two thousand year period. Four women does not a Diaspora make and given the time period involved they could very well have been Christian or Muslim. Yet, Israeli leaders and too many Jews throughout the world speak of their 3,000-year history, ignoring the Palestinians, whose history they pretend is their own.
Israel was born through the actions of Zionist terrorist organizations. It is still led by criminal elements. Today, the Israeli appetite and trade in marijuana, cocaine, heroine, and hashish may be brushed off as a sign of the times. But Israeli drug lords control the global Ecstasy market, a drug that causes permanent, irreversible brain damage.
In 2000, the Boston Globe reported, “To avoid detection, one Israeli criminal group enlisted ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn and Monsey, N.Y., to bring shipments of Ecstasy into the United States. With their traditional black hats, black coats and locks of hair dangling around their ears, the Hasidic Jews looked like unlikely suspects.”
The Israeli crime rate in human trafficking is among the highest in the world. They are listed by America as “second tier” only because in recent years, there have been marginal efforts to do something about it. Over 10,000 women have been brought into Israel and forced into sexual bondage, according to reports in the BBC (May 18, 2000), the Forward, Ynetnews, the Associated Press and other news organizations.
This industry is reputed to bring in over $1 billion a year. In fact, only a few months ago, in March 2006 the Israeli High Court overturned an Israeli law that facilitated slavery. Granted, if the new law prohibiting slavery is enforced, it should help to offset the prostitution industry in Israel and their international export of sex slaves. Last year, commenting on the sexual slavery market within Israel, an Israeli Parliamentary Inquiry Committee reported, in the words ofYnetnews.com, “some 10,000 such women currently reside in about 300 to 400 brothels throughout the country.”
The Israeli Kav LaOved Newsletter reported in 2004, in an article titled, “The legal battle against the binding arrangement”:
“The state of Israel is involved both directly and indirectly in turning foreign workers — who entered the country legally — into victims of trafficking in persons, as defined in the proposed legislation. The view of migrant workers in Israel as the employers’ property is reflected above all (in) the ‘binding arrangement’ which makes the worker the employer’s slave.
“The binding arrangement is based on Section 6 of the Entry to Israel Law, 1952. Under this section, the Interior Minister has the power ‘to stipulate conditions in a visa or in a residence permit, compliance with which shall be a condition for the validity of the visit or the residence permit.’ As this arrangement is applied by the Interior Ministry, the work permit belongs not to the worker but to the employer; the worker is in fact bound or fettered to the specific employer whose name is stamped in his passport. Such binding to an employer is an imperative condition for the worker’s legal status in Israel.”
In addition to human and drug trafficking, Israel is also replete with maintaining the best politicians that money can buy. Prior to his debilitating stroke, Sharon, and his sons, were plagued by corruption scandals and threats of indictments. Corruption is also frequently linked to Shimon Peres and Olmert to name a few.
Isn’t it time for the world to stop pussyfooting around the basic fact. Israel is not legitimate and will not be until they accept Palestinians as belonging in the whole of historic Palestine with full rights as citizens. Palestinians must also be compensated for the 68 years of theft and bloodshed for which the aggressor — Israel — is responsible.
Although I support a two state solution as realistic until the parties in the conflict can reconcile, only a one state solution would bring a guarantee of peace within the region.
The problem facing the Palestinian leadership, as they strive to bring the millions living in the occupied territories some small relief from their collective suffering, amounts to a matter of a few words. A bit like a naughty child who has only to say “Sorry” to be released from his room, the Hamas government need only say “We recognise Israel” and supposedly aid and international goodwill will wash over the West Bank and Gaza.
That, at least, was the gist of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent speech during a visit to the Negev, when he suggested that his country’s hand was outstretched across the sands towards the starving masses of Gaza — if only Hamas would repent. “Recognise us and we are ready to talk about peace” was the implication.
Certainly the Palestinian people have been viciously punished for making their democratic choice early this year to elect a Hamas government that Israel and the Western powers disapprove of. An economic blockade has been imposed, starving the Palestinian Authority (PA) of income to pay for services and remunerate its large workforce. Millions of dollars in tax monies owed to the Palestinians have been illegally withheld by Israel, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. A physical blockade of Gaza enforced by Israel has prevented the Palestinians from exporting their produce, mostly perishable crops, and from importing essentials like food and medicine. Israeli military strikes have damaged Gaza’s vital infrastructure, including the supply of electricity and water, as well as randomly killing its inhabitants. And thousands of families are being torn apart as Israel uses the pretext of its row with Hamas to freeze the visas of Palestinian foreign passport holders.
The magic words “We recognise you” could end all this suffering, so why not utter them? Is Hamas so filled with hatred and loathing for Israel as a Jewish state that it cannot make such a simple statement of good intent? Is the Palestinians’ recalcitrance not proof that they still want to drive the Jews into the sea?
It is easy to forget that, though conditions have dramatically deteriorated of late, the Palestinians’ problems did not start with the election of Hamas. Israel’s occupation is four decades old, and no Palestinian leader has ever been able to extract from Israel a promise of real statehood in all of the occupied territories: not the mukhtars, the largely compliant local leaders, who for decades were the only representatives allowed to speak on behalf of the Palestinians after the national leadership was expelled; not the PA under the secular leadership of Yasser Arafat, who returned to the occupied territories in the mid-1990s after the Palestine Liberation Organisation had recognised Israel; not the leadership of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the “moderate” who first called for an end to the armed Intifada; and now not the leaders of Hamas, even though they have repeatedly called for a long-term truce ( hudna ) as the first step in building confidence.
Similarly, few Palestinians doubt that Israel will continue to entrench the occupation — just as it did during the supposed peacemaking years of Oslo, when the number of Jewish settlers doubled in the occupied territories — even if Hamas is ousted and a government of national unity, of technocrats or even of Fatah, takes its place.
There is far more at stake for Israel in winning this little concession from Hamas than most observers appreciate. A statement saying that Hamas recognised Israel would do much more than meet Israel’s precondition for talks; it would mean that Hamas had walked into the same trap that was set earlier for Arafat and Fatah. That trap is designed to ensure that any peaceful solution to the conflict is impossible.
It achieves this end in two ways.
First, as has already been understood, at least by those paying attention, Hamas’s recognition of Israel’s “right to exist” would effectively signify that the Palestinian government was publicly abandoning its own goal of struggling to create a viable Palestinian state.
That is because Israel refuses to demarcate its own future borders, leaving it an open question what it considers to be the extent of its “existence” it is demanding Hamas recognise. We do know that no one in the Israeli leadership is talking about a return to Israel’s borders that existed before the 1967 war, or probably anything close to it.
Without a return to those pre-1967 borders (plus a substantial injection of goodwill from Israel in ensuring unhindered passage between Gaza and the West Bank) no possibility exists of a viable Palestinian state ever emerging.
And no goodwill, of course, will be forthcoming. Every Israeli leader has refused to recognise the Palestinians, first as a people and now as a nation. And in the West’s typically hypocritical fashion when dealing with the Palestinians, no one has ever suggested that Israel commit to such recognition.
In fact, Israeli governments have glorified in their refusal to extend the same recognition to the Palestinians that they demand from them. Famously Golda Meir, a Labour prime minister, said that the Palestinians did not exist, adding in 1971 that Israel’s “borders are determined by where Jews live, not where there is a line on a map.” At the same time she ordered that the Green Line, Israel’s border until the 1967 war, be erased from all official maps.
That legacy hit the headlines last week when the dovish education minister, Yuli Tamir, caused a storm by issuing a directive that the Green Line should be reintroduced in Israeli schoolbooks. There were widespread protests against her “extreme leftist ideology” from politicians and rabbis, and many schools said they would refuse to comply.
According to Israeli educators, the chances of textbooks showing the Green Line again — or dropping references to “Judea and Samaria”, the Biblical names for the West Bank, or including Arab towns on maps of Israel — are close to nil. The private publishers who print the textbooks would refuse to incur the extra costs of reprinting the maps, said Professor Yoram Bar-Gal, head of geography at Haifa University.
Sensitive to the damage that the row might do to Israel’s international image, and aware that Tamir’s directive is never likely to be implemented, Olmert agreed in principle to the change. “There is nothing wrong with marking the Green Line,” he said. But in a statement that made his agreement entirely hollow, he added: “But there is an obligation to emphasise that the government’s position and public consensus rule out returning to the 1967 lines.”
The second element to the trap is far less well understood. It explains the strange formulation of words Israel uses in making its demand of Hamas. Israel does not ask it simply to “recognise Israel”, but to “recognise Israel’s right to exist”. The difference is not a just matter of semantics.
The concept of a state having any rights is not only strange but also alien to international law. People have rights, not states. And that is precisely the point: when Israel demands that its “right to exist” be recognised, the subtext is that we are not speaking of recognition of Israel as a normal nation state but as the state of a specific people, the Jews.
In demanding recognition of its right to exist, Israel is ensuring that the Palestinians agree to Israel’s character being set in stone as an exclusivist Jewish state, one that privileges the rights of Jews over all other ethnic, religious and national groups inside the same territory. The question of what such a state entails is largely glossed over both by Israel and the West.
For most observers, it means simply that Israel must refuse to allow the return of the millions of Palestinians languishing in refugee camps throughout the region, whose former homes in Israel have now been appropriated for the benefit of Jews. Were they allowed to come back, Israel’s Jewish majority would be eroded overnight and it could no longer claim to be a Jewish state, except in the same sense that apartheid South Africa was a white state.
This conclusion is apparently accepted by Romano Prodi, Italy’s prime minister, after a round of lobbying in European capitals by Israel’s telegenic foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. According to The Jerusalem Post last week, Prodi is saying in private that Israel should receive guarantees from the Palestinians that its Jewish character will never be in doubt.
Israeli officials are cheering what they believe is the first crack in Europe’s support for international law and the rights of Palestinian refugees. “It’s important to get everyone on the same page on this one,” an official told the Post.
But in truth the consequences of the Palestinian leadership recognising Israel as a Jewish state run far deeper than the question of the future of Palestinian refugees. In my book Blood and Religion, I set out these harsh consequences both for the Palestinians in the occupied territories and for the million or so Palestinians who live inside Israel as citizens, supposedly with the same rights as Jewish citizens.
My argument is that this need to maintain Israel’s Jewish character at all costs is actually the cause of its conflict with the Palestinians. No solution is possible as long as Israel insists on privileging citizenship for Jews above other groups, and on distorting the region’s territorial and demographic realities to ensure that the numbers continue to weigh in the Jews’ favour.
Although ultimately the return of Palestinian refugees poses the biggest threat to Israel’s “existence”, Israel has a far more pressing demographic concern: the refusal by the Palestinians living in the West Bank to leave the parts of that territory Israel covets (and which it knows by the Biblical names of Judea and Samaria).
Within a decade, the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the million Palestinian citizens living inside Israel will outnumber Jews, both those living in Israel and the settlers in the West Bank.
That was one of the chief reasons for the “disengagement” from Gaza: Israel could claim that, even though it is still occupying the small piece of land militarily, it was no longer responsible for the population there. By withdrawing a few thousand settlers from the Strip, 1.4 million Gazans were instantly wiped from the demographic score sheet.
But though the loss of Gaza has postponed for a few years the threat of a Palestinian majority in the expanded state Israel desires, it has not magically guaranteed Israel’s continuing existence as a Jewish state. That is because Israel’s Palestinian citizens, though a minority comprising no more than a fifth of Israel’s population, can potentially bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
For the past decade they have been demanding that Israel be reformed from a Jewish state, which systematically discriminates against them and denies their Palestinian identity, into a “state of all its citizens”, a liberal democracy that would give all citizens, Jews and Palestinians, equal rights.
Israel has characterised the demand for a state of all its citizens as subversion and treason, realising that, were the Jewish state to become a liberal democracy, Palestinian citizens could justifiably demand: the right to marry Palestinians from the occupied territories and from the Diaspora, winning them Israeli citizenship — “a right of return through the backdoor” as officials call it; the right to bring Palestinian relatives in exile back to their former homes in Israel under a Right of Return programme that would be a pale shadow of the existing Law of Return that guarantees any Jew anywhere in the world the automatic right to Israeli citizenship.
To prevent the first threat, Israel passed a flagrantly racist law in 2003 that makes it all but impossible for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to bring a Palestinian spouse to Israel. For the time being, such couples have little choice but to seek asylum abroad, if other countries will give them refuge.
But like the Gaza disengagement, this piece of legislation is a delaying tactic rather than a solution to the problem of Israel’s “existence”. So behind the scenes Israel has been formulating ideas that taken together would remove large segments of Israel’s Palestinian population from its borders and strip any remaining “citizens” of their political rights unless they swear loyalty to a “Jewish and democratic state” and thereby renounce their demand that Israel reform itself into a liberal democracy.
This is the bottom line for a Jewish state, just as it was for a white apartheid South Africa: if we are to survive, then we must be able to do whatever it takes to keep ourselves in power, even if it means systematically violating the human rights of all those we rule over and who do not belong to our group.
Ultimately, the consequences of Israel being allowed to remain a Jewish state will be felt by all of us, wherever we live, and not only because of the fallout from continuing and growing anger in the Arab and Muslim worlds at the double standards applied by the West to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Given Israel’s view that its most pressing interest is not peace or regional accommodation with its neighbours but the need to ensure a Jewish majority at all costs to protect its “existence”, Israel is likely to act in ways that endanger regional and global stability.
A small taste of that was offered in Israel’s cheerleading of the invasion of Iraq, during the build-up in 2002 and 2003, and its assault on Lebanon this summer. But it is most evident in its drumbeat of war against Iran.
Israel has been leading attempts to characterise the Iranian regime as profoundly anti-Semitic, and its presumed nuclear ambitions as directed by the sole goal of wanting to “wipe Israel off the map” — a calculatedly mischievous mistranslation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech.
Most observers have assumed that Israel is genuinely concerned for its safety from nuclear attack, however implausible the idea that even the most fanatical Muslim regime would, unprovoked, launch nuclear missiles against a small area of land that contains some of Islam’s holiest sites, in Jerusalem.
But in truth there is another reason why Israel is concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran that has nothing to do with conventional ideas about safety.
Last month, Ephraim Sneh, one of Israel’s most distinguished generals, a senior member of the Labour party and now Olmert’s deputy defence minister, revealed that the government’s primary concern was not the threat posed by Ahmadinejad firing nuclear missiles at Israel but the effect of Iran’s possession of such weapons on Jews who expect Israel to have a monopoly on the nuclear threat.
If Iran got such weapons, “Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will … I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That’s why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.”
In other words, the Israeli government is considering either its own pre-emptive strike on Iran or encouraging the United States to undertake such an attack — despite the terrible consequences for global security — simply because a nuclear- armed Iran might make Israel a less attractive place for Jews to live, lead to increased emigration and tip the demographic balance in the Palestinians’ favour.
Regional and possibly global war may be triggered simply to ensure that Israel’s “existence” as a state that offers exclusive privileges to Jews continues.
For all our sakes, we must hope that the Palestinians and their Hamas government continue refusing to “recognise Israel’s right to exist”.
* Jonathon Cook is a journalist based in Nazareth. His book Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State is published by Pluto Press.