The State of Israel has a right to exist…doesn’t it?

The ending of the latest fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in particular Hamas, has drawn attention yet again to the need for an end to over 70 years of conflict and this, it is said, requires a two state solution. I have explained in previous articles why it is that a two state solution is a chimera, but the possibility that others may explore it raises issues about the nature of a state.

In what sense does the state of Israel have rights and, if it does, how do they compare with the rights which a state of Palestine should have? Indeed, can states have rights? And how might such rights compare or conflict with human rights?

States and rights

States do not, cannot, have rights.  Yet it is a fundamental plank of Israel’s claim to legitimacy that it – the Israeli State – has a right to exist.  The Israeli claim goes further: Israel asserts that it has the right to exist as a specifically Jewish State.  These claims, deployed by Israel and its allies, in particular the USA and EU, act as a form of camouflage, concealing Israel’s rooted unwillingness to work towards justice in Palestine/Israel.  

Usually camouflage is deployed to conceal weaponry or key installations, but in the case of the assertion that the Israeli State has the right to exist, what is concealed is not weaponry, but the absence of a sustainable, coherent idea. A bit like the Wizard of Oz where the wizard is seen to be non-existent, Israel’s right to exist, when considered, is similarly pointing at an empty construct. And this has nothing to do with Israel as such and everything to do with what it means to say an entity – a State or organisation – has rights. 

A state, an abstract construction, is not capable of having rights though all people living within a state’s territory do, or should have human rights. It is the prospect of equal human rights for all that discomforts Israel.

We can apply a real-life test to the proposition that a state cannot meaningfully be said to have rights.

The United Kingdom claims no right to exist

Within the United Kingdom, one of its component parts, Scotland, is debating whether it wishes to remain part of the UK, or to declare its independence as a Scottish State.  Similarly, there are currents of opinion in Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed Cornwall, that favour divorce from the UK State, and hope for independence. Such aspirations may or may not be achievable, that is not the point.  So far as I’m aware, no charges of sedition have been laid against proponents of these fissiparous tendencies, nor has it been claimed the UK State has any rights that might be infringed by this prospective contraction of its borders.  Implementation of any one of the potential scenarios above would mean that the UK State, as currently constituted, would no longer exist. And of course history, even recent history, has examples of state formation and state dissolution.

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