Israel: Legitimacy and the ‘right’ to exist

Israel does not want anything that could be called genuine peace…

The turning point has arrived quietly, no fanfare or advance warning signifying its importance. After 62 years there is nothing left to talk about with Israel. Finally, all possibilities have been eliminated.

Past plans are scattered across the landscape like the whitened bones of dinosaurs, their only purpose to remind us and future generations of what might have been but never was. The last flimsy veil has been pulled away from a ‘peace process’ that was never a peace process in the first place but a different kind of war process.

Israel has rejected every opportunity that ever came its way to make peace with the Palestinians, and through them with the broader Arab world. The process did not begin in 1988 or even in 1973 but goes back to Nasser’s approaches in the 1960s. In the past two decades the Arab states have laid out a simple formula for peace – you keep 80 per cent of the land but you return the 20 per cent you took in 1967 and you take the refugee question serious. The offer was almost insanely and irresponsibly generous, but it was still not enough for Israel.

By ignoring or rejecting these open offers, by taking what it wants from the ‘peace process’ and dumping the rest, Israel has repeatedly turned its back on peace. For peace to be durable, viable, all those words used by American presidents and British Prime Ministers, something has to be on offer for both sides, but now nothing is on offer for the Palestinians. Israel is going to do what it wants, take what it wants, and to hell with international law and what anyone else thinks. These are the clear signals coming from the Netanyahu government, backed up on the ground by a feverish acceleration of settlement building.

There is nowhere left for Mahmud Abbas, Husni Mubarak and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan to hide behind, not a rock, a fig leaf or even a blade of grass. If we are not hearing much from any of them these days that is because there is nothing left to say. Obama has gone completely silent on the question of Middle East peace and, except for the occasional pro forma statement about getting the peace process back on track (i.e. giving a corpse mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), so has Hillary Clinton. Obviously, they are focused on the coming congressional elections but they have nothing useful to say either.

Israel has driven everyone into a corner. The ‘peace process’ was based on the assumption that sooner or later Israel would come to the party, that when the point was reached where the ‘core issues’ could be discussed Israel would make the necessary ‘concessions’ (i.e. handing back stolen property). But it is not coming to the party. There is no party, except for the settlers and the fascists marching on Umm al Fahm calling ‘death to the terrorists’. They are having a wild old time. The champagne corks are popping everywhere.

Israel claims legitimacy and the ‘right’ to exist. Yet its first act was to drive out the indigenous people of Palestine so that they would have no rights at all, not just the right to vote but the most basic right of all, the right to live in the land where they were born.

In other words, Israel is claiming rights, which it completely denies to another people. Not only does it do this but also it demands that its victims accept that the wrongs committed against them were in fact a ‘right’. This is totally absurd but if the full-blown fascists in the Knesset have their way, even the commemoration of the nakba would be criminalised. That the government would actually allow the followers of the genocidal Meir Kahane to flaunt their repulsive doctrines in Umm al Fahm, right amongst the people they want killed or removed, is a measure of the depth of the racism in its ranks.

The life of a state is also based on the harmony of its relationships with those living alongside it and on its willingness to live within the remit of international law. On both of these counts Israel is a miserable failure. In the name of security and defending borders, which it refuses to declare, it has spent the last six decades antagonising the Arabs. This has to be regarded as extremely strange behavior for a state which endlessly proclaims its desire to live at peace with its neighbors. In fact, Israel has no ‘neighbors’ in the cosy sense of that word. It has treaty arrangements with Egypt and Jordan, whose rulers do not represent the sentiments of their own people, let alone the feelings of the broader Arab world.

Israel does not want anything that could conceivably be called a genuine peace. For the sake of holding on to its ill-gotten gains, it is prepared to remain a garrison state forever. It is prepared to fight wars and to launch them to destroy anyone who stands in the way of the fulfillment of the Zionist dream/nightmare.

Nothing is left for the Palestinians in this situation but to declare that, as the Oslo process succeeded or failed as a package, as it has now not so much failed as been killed off by Israel, all the agreements that were made along the way are null and void. Effectively, they, the Palestinians, and we, the rest of the world, because there is no way that the world can avoid becoming embroiled in the very large crisis that will inevitably arise as the apotheosis of all these smaller crises (small by comparison), we are back to 1948. Blocked from swinging in one direction, the pendulum between war and peace must now swing in the other.

– Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to

Palestine Chronicle

October 31, 2010


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