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

States are political constructs, born out of many and diverse causes, subject always to the possibility of change or indeed extinction.  Assimilating the idea of ‘rights’, by which we generally mean human rights, to the false, some would say incoherent, notion of attributing rights to abstract constructions such as a state is not a statement of ethical commitment, but a political ploy.  A ploy designed to obscure or erase the possibility of getting to the heart ofthe Palestine/Israel issue. 

I labour these points because I suspect that for some Israel-critical people Israel’s claim that its state has a right to exist can be a source of discomfort since, by the using the term ‘rights’ it can seem that a State’s (notional) rights are on the same footing as human rights. I hope I’ve countered the notion that there is any sort of equivalence going on here.

Benefits to Israel of muddying the water on ‘rights’

If we think of the hasbara benefits (Israeli propaganda/public relations) to Israel in muddying the water on the question of rights, one can see how it creates a space within which Israel can deploy false, though emotionally-laden, analogies with historical anti-Semitism, in particular the Holocaust. And Israel is not slow to, at the very least imply, that denying its right to exist as a state, is somehow tantamount to wishing the elimination of the Jewish population.

Here’s the rub.  What the Israeli State seeks to mask by its strident insistence on its right to exist as a state, is that for Palestinians within the Green Line (and indeed for its non-Jewish population in general), they have severely compromised human rights; and, in the case of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory, to all intents and purposes they have no human rights but are at the mercy of the occupying military power – the Israeli State.

The right to discriminate

There have been other articles that catalogue the egregious policies and practices of the Israeli State, but by way of reminder of the institutionalised discrimination that forms its very foundation one need only look at Israel’s 2018 ‘Basic Law: Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people’, one clause of which makes clear that ‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.’  This clause alone cancels out any possibility that non-Jews falling within the ambit of such a state can experience now, or look forward to in the future, any hope of equal political and human rights.

What the current Israeli State clamours for, is the right to discriminate against Palestinians.  

What price recognition?

In 1993, Yasser Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised ‘the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.’ As part of this the PLO renounced ‘the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.’

Those declarations were made twenty-eight years ago. It is not apparent that any meaningful benefits have accrued to Palestinians as the result of the PLO recognising the Israeli State’s right to exist, this because Israel’s insistence on demanding such recognition is a tactic, a highly effective one, to send all attempts to resolve the Palestine/Israel issue into a cul-de-sac. And with the USA, UK, EU stuck there, Israel continues with its colonisation of Palestine


It’s instructive to look at Hamas’s position on whether or not to recognise the Israeli State.

The Middle East Quartet, comprising the UN, USA, EU and Russia, was established in Madrid in 2002, ‘to advance the Palestinian economy and preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.’.  It laid down that ‘all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel [Italics added], and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations….’

In 2008 former President Carter met with Hamas leaders in Damascus for which, on the one hand, he was criticised by, for example, Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Taking a contrary view was Mark Perry, former co-director of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum, who relayed Hama’s position. Hamas said:

‘If we agree to those conditions, what’s there to talk about? Those three conditions are the result of negotiations, not a pre-condition of negotiations. We’re willing to talk now. Let’s talk about those three conditions.1

Alvara de Soto, UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, described the conditions as ‘bogus’, pointing out that Israel has never been pressurised to recognise that Palestinians had a right to a state.

It makes no sense to require recognition of Israel’s right to exist, its right to exist as a Jewish State, as a precondition of negotiation.  For it is Israel’s existence as a discriminatory, colonising state, its racist Basic Law, its legislative and regulatory framework, its denial of Palestinian political and human rights that are the issues. The one the Israeli State strives so assiduously to avoid confronting.

  1. Source: The making of Hamas’s foreign policy by Daud Abdullah

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