Home > World events > Israel’s right to exist , Palestinians’ right to live

Israel’s right to exist , Palestinians’ right to live

The thing about an either/or worldview is that it puts people squarely in one camp or the other. Nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East question, that festering boil in a world where there are enough vexing problem spots. It’s almost redundant to ask people where they stand. Enough to know their geopolitical background and their religious faith, if any, and there’s your answer. Any Middle Easterner, any Muslim, including non-Arabs such as Iranians and Turks, will say unequivocally that Israel has to disappear and disappear now rather than later. European and American intellectuals, human rights organizations and activists of all stripes will deplore Israel’s inflexible stance, its harsh retaliatory tactics, and the constant humiliation to which it subjects Palestinians. On the other side, you have Western governments, pro-Israel organizations, the Jews that are part of demographics in almost every country, much of the media, and analysts who try to keep a semblance of reason in political discourse.

The scales may seem weighted against Palestinians but things are more complicated. On the one hand, there’s Israel, a tiny state (democratic, true, but not for their own Arab citizens or for the subjugated Palestinians, much like ancient Greece was a republic of equals except for slaves) fending off constant attacks and questions on its very right to exist. On the other hand, the tragedy of Palestinians–who count some of the most highly educated and superior cadres of a number of countries in the area,including Jordan– violent anti-semitism (a misnomer if there ever was one, given that Arabs are as much Semitic as Jews). The anti-semitism is not different from what the world has always known, except that its anti-Israel or anti-Zionism sentiment becomes a thoroughly acceptable excuse. Every day, my email box gets filled with documentation of nefarious Jewish and Zionist conspiracies—how Jewish media control the world, Jewish lobbies control Congress and the White House, about Dead Sea scrolls, proof absolute that no Jews died on September 11, Finkelstein’s “Holocaust industry,” etc.

I read rants by fellow Iranian-Americans, the most reasonable among them declaring that we shouldn’t take sides as we’re not Arabs and the question doesn’t concern us. Actually, it does concern us. It concerns everyone. It’s a sad judgment on human affairs that after so many talks, round tables, handshakes on the South Lawn and U.N. resolutions, the world cannot see its way to a definitive peace and the divisive Israel-Palestine issue is worse than ever. Examples to follow are not many. South Africa? Yes, white minority and black majority put behind them the so-heavy past history, but they were one people, in one country; any kind of separation would have been unthinkable. Northern Ireland? Same thing—Catholics and Protestants were all Irish. Once the guns fell silent, people could start picking up the broken shards of their lives. But here, consider the situation, what has happened over decades and what little hope there is of a solution. Arafat, as corrupt and flawed as they come but a consummate negotiator, is long gone. Ariel Sharon who, as Defense Minister, bears great responsibility, albeit indirectly, for the Sabra and Chatila massacres and who, upon a visit to the Temple Mount, justified Israel’s oversight of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sparking the second intifada, completely reversed his position some time after becoming Prime Minister. He kicked thousands of Israeli settlers out of the West Bank, embarked on unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and endorsed the roadmap to peace. Wouldn’t you know it, the devil became anxious at seeing a possible solution take shape and, in 2006, hit Sharon with a stroke.

This week, Mahmoud Abbas is making a case for statehood at the United Nations. Yes, it’s a problem for everyone concerned—for Hamas which prefers to see the plan fail rather than succeed without them, for the United States which has declared that because this action would prevent peace talks (which peace talks, exactly, are we talking about?) from resuming, it would vote against it, for Israel which has vowed punitive action. Why, for heaven’s sake, why? Recognizing Palestine as a state, and bypassing future possible negotiations that will die in the sand as have past ones would not only put all players in front of a fait accompli. It will protect the West Bank, now a sovereign nation, from further Israeli diktats and settlements. It will also protect Israel by helping it regain the capital of good will that has been seriously depleted in recent months.

Netanyahu and his conservative government don’t quite take the measure of the forces they are unleashing, especially now that Turkey and Egypt are withdrawing their support. The Palestinian Authority President is appearing before the United Nations as a supplicant, with a totally empty hand. It would take a bigger man than Netanyahu to invest in the continued existence of Israel by going back to the pre-1967 borders and recognize Palestinian rights, no matter what concerns such as Jerusalem and settlements would remain. It would take a U.S. president showing more resolve than Obama has so far in making difficult decisions. But what would our individual lives be—and the world—if not for our hope that miracles are round the corner? If nothing else, history should tell us that borders can change, countries can merge (see Vietnam) or divide (see Sudan) and past conflicts can seem absurd. Looking back—fifty years, a hundred, a thousand—we wonder at situations that were hopeless then and are quite forgotten now.

  1. September 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Saideh, Thank you for this eloquent, intelligent resume of the current situation, which has so many of us saddened, baffled, dismayed. Hopeless as it seems, as you point out there is still room for hope “that miracles [may be] round the corner…” Prayer may seem a futile response to such a situation, but if prayer is a way of amassing positive, healing energy and attempting to direct it into a certain corner of the world, where it can be felt by people in need of positive, healing energy, then let us all pray (and do anything else we can think of to help) that a spirit of reconciliation, compromise and basic human compassion and trust will help these neighbors find their way to peace, security, and harmony. At long last!


  2. Lew Perelman
    September 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Saideh, I appreciate the good will underlying your thoughts here. However there is a problem with this:

    “Why, for heaven’s sake, why? Recognizing Palestine as a state, and bypassing future possible negotiations that will die in the sand as have past ones would not only put all players in front of a fait accompli…..” etc.

    I am not an expert in international law. However the UN Charter requires that any nation to be admitted to membership must agree to act in accordance with the Charter’s core principles, as listed in Article I. These include:
    “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” The Charter principles also require recognition of the sovereign equality of all UN members, including Israel.

    And therein lies the problem. To recognize a Palestinian state and according it entre to the UN necessarily means recognizing its government. But the existing Palestinian government, which includes Hamas, is sworn to the destruction of the sovereign state of Israel. The charters of the Palestinian government, and of Hamas in particular, are for all practical purposes a declaration of war on the state of Israel.

    Article 51 of the UN Charter also recognizes the right of member nations to defend themselves: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations . . .”

    So at best no good can come from the proposed resolution. At worst, and more likely, it will simply spawn renewed violence, bloodshed, death, and suffering. The resolution, bound to foment ‘inter-national’ conflict, would seem to contradict not only the Charter’s core principles but the very reason for the UN’s existence.

    The fact remains that Arabs have had several opportunities to establish a Palestinian state since 1948 — simply at the price of recognizing the sovereignty of the Jewish state of Israel and agreeing to live with it in peace. They have rejected the opportunity every time. As the president rightly said, no UN resolution can impose peace on people who do not want to make peace.


    • September 23, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      Thanks for the comment. When I talk about Palestinians, I mean the PA and Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, you are right, is a terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel but its alliance with PA is of the flimsiest and extremely uneasy. The West Bank should absolutely be an independent Palestinian state and Abbas is right to try for statehood, even if there’s zero chance. As you may have noticed, The Counter Argument is a blog where the many sides of an issue are examined, not just one side. The Palestinians are not more at fault than Israelis for the fact that there is no Palestinian state to this day. As for them rejecting opportunities, I don’t see the ever-increasing settlements by conservative Jews as conducive to any kind of dialogue.


      • Lew Perelman
        September 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm

        Saideh, examining multiple sides of an issue does not require concluding that all are equal in their validity. Your last statement that “Palestinians are not more at fault than Israelis” — and really one must speak of Arabs not just Palestinians — does not conform with the historical facts. Again, from the instant the state of Israel’s sovereignty and borders were sanctioned by the United Nations in 1947 it was attacked by members of the Arab League who rejected its existence and sought to exterminate it. From the time Israel successfully defended itself and established its independence, during the subsequent two decades there was no Israeli ‘occupation’ in the Gaza Strip or West Bank. If Arabs wanted an independent Palestinian state nothing prevented them from creating it during that period but their own choice.


      • September 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm

        Lew, Examining multiple sides of an issue means weighing validity and faults of each. I don’t believe there can be unbiased views when the stakes are so high but certainly people of good will can come up with dispassionate assessments. I agree with you about the violent anti-Israel stance of most Arab nations and leaders (except for President Saadat of Egypt, unfortunately one of a kind). I also agree that Palestinians often missed the opportunity (on purpose in the case of wily Arafat) to create a state for themselves. But as the days of Saadat are gone, so are those of Rabin and the later Sharon–I don’t mean “late” which he isn’t yet but the views he espoused before his stroke. And where are the voices of reason of Shimon Perez or Haaretz journalists? Now we have stoked up Hamas-influenced proto-violence on one side and a stone-faced conservative government on the other. I honestly deplore the settlements and believe they’re holding up the peace process. I hate the humiliating treatment of West Bank Palestinians in their daily lives, work, commute. But I also hate it that the Palestinians will not recognize Israel once and for all so the world can move on. At this point I’m done with this subject, at least for the time being. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  3. September 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    “it takes a bigger man…” that’s so true and applicable as much to Netanyahu who akin to a vicious bulldozer managed to destroy the hope for peace and made Israel a subject to accusations of apartheid, to Arafat who thought that he could manipulate at will, to Bush Jr. who quickly destroyed the goodwill and support the whole world gave us after 9/11, to the Republicans who in their zeal to unseat Obama are prepared to lay waste at the US economy, to Angela Merkel who is incapable to lead Europe out of the Euro debacle, to Putin who has emptied Russia of democratic meaning and to the mollahs who drunk on their absolute power have turned Iran into a paradise for junkies, crooks and criminals.

    Rome burns and the politicians are dancing!


  4. Duncan Brown
    September 22, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks, Saideh. Very thoughtful and eloquent. And in the end hopeful. Suggesting that with hindsight of fifty, one hundred, or a thousand years, we may wonder what the fuss was.


  5. Hamid
    September 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    If I may interject: two wrongs don’t make one right. Regardless of the scandalous behavior of the Arab states towards the Palestinians, or of the Turks or Iranians against their Kurdish or other minorities, the quasi-apartheid like treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government is wrong. Not only does it dehumanize the Palestinians in the eyes of the occupiers, but it debases the Israelis. Where is the country that was a beacon of hope and principles in the Middle East? The Israel of my childhood that I started admiring and loving after reading Exodus? Today Israel is rapidly becoming more like its neighbors. What a pity.


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