The Right To Exist Canard

by Brien Jackson

Ultimately, the biggest barrier to a negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be the more or less irrelevant flashpoints the parties, particularly on the Israeli side, will insist on bringing into the discussion, for the purpose of bogging down progress. One of the more common of these, hit on here at LGF, is the notion of Palestinian exceptance of Israel’s “right to exist.” To be clear, it would be helpful if more aspects of the Arabic side of the question would lose the eliminationist rhetoric, but either way, this simply isn’t a major impediment to a deal in any way.

The best way to understand why this doesn’t matter is to consider why the settlements do matter. It’s not because they’re an existential problem, per se, or even that they violate previous agreements and international law, at the base level, the settlements present a problem because they’re physical structures that are going to have to be dealt with some way in any agreement. Whether they’re dismantled or remain in place with some other land swapped, ultimately the two sides are going to have to sit down and negotiate a situation that is acceptable to both sides. The more settlements there are to negotiate, and the more occupied territory they’re sitting on, the harder it is to get a deal both sides can live with. The settlers know this, and that’s why they’re so fervent about building. Indeed, it’s why the settlements exist in the first place.

The question of who does or does not accept the right of Israel to exist, however, is completely irrelevant. It’s not something that needs to be negotiated between the two parties, or something that should provide a stumbling block. To pointout the obvious, Israel does exist, and their power is such that that’s unlikely to change. Certainly, none of the Arabic states are in a position to pose an xistential threat to Israel. And ultimately, this question doesn’t really have any bearing on Israel, he Palestinians, or whether or not a two-state arrangement works best for everyone. It’s only a stumbling block if Israel wants it to be one.

But of course, they do want it to be an impediment, as the language itself suggests. How many other places do you hear the “right” of a nation-state to exist being discussed? No one talks about Canada’s right to exist, or Somalia’s, or Tibet’s. From an ethnic state standpoint, you rarely hear anyone ask if maybe the Tamil don’t have a right to their own ethnic homeland. And this is the distinct problem you run into with Israel; the Jewish people’s conception of this right isn’t merely about the right of the nation-state of Israel to exist, it’s about the right of a Jewish state to exist in this precise spot, because of ancient religious tradition. And this is why this is such a tricky question, and why Israel brings it up, because the Arabs believe that their patriarch was the promised son of Abraham, and that, therefore, this land was promised to them. It’s something of a silly fight, and obviously you can’t resolve it in this context without picking sides between two religious traditions, but you obviously can’t solve it if you don’t understand it, or if you refuse to acknowledge the similar claims/feelings on the Palestinian side. Which isn’t to endorse either side’s ancient claim to the land, just merely to point out that the question is an inherent distraction, perpetuated by a player that has a desire to delay or derail the process. One that the United States should ignore in favor of more practical problems like the settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and other concerns that are going to be sticking points in the real world.

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