The fading hopes for peace in the Middle East
Israel frequently claims its ‘right’ to exist. In fact, states do not exist by right and neither do they have a right to exist. They continue to exist because they have a strong army, capable of taking land and imposing their rule on the native population. They exist because they have the support of their people, even, eventually, of those they have conquered. They exist because they rule with the consent of the people, as represented in consultation and democratic forms of government. They exist because they get on well with their neighbours. They exist because they form strong alliances with countries more powerful than themselves and because, globally, they form a community of nations committed to the rules that govern them all. This does not mean that they do not break them, because they often do, but they do not live in their permanent breach.
Israel meets only two of these criteria. It has a strong army and a strong relationship with a distant power, the US, but it does not have the support of the people, defined not just as those living within the territory on which the state was established but those who are entitled to live within that territory. As applied to Israel, the word ‘democracy’ is a fiction, and not just because of discrimination against Palestinians living within the state or because of the suppression of the human rights of Palestinians living in the territories seized in 1967. It is a fiction because in 1948 the first act of the government of Israel was the expulsion of the majority of people living on the land it conquered. It is not just that they cannot vote. They cannot even live on the land, as is their inherent and legal right. No state founded on this basis can be called a ‘democracy.’
As for its neighbours, Israel has diplomatic relations with two, Egypt and Jordan. The ‘peace’ between them is better described as a state of no war, given the popular animosity to Israel in both countries. The theocratic anti-democratic monarchies of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain have responded to Israel’s efforts to open relations with more Arab countries but none of these governments can be said to represent the wishes of the people.
States have risen and fallen since the beginning of recorded history. They fade out of history or they emerge in new forms. Nazi Germany gave way to democratic Germany. The regional principalities of Italy were combined in one nation-state. The apartheid state of South Africa was finally replaced by a democratic state. Colonial-settler states have even less right than other states to claim a ‘right’ to exist. They destroyed the right of others to exist as they had existed, in some cases for tens of thousands of years. The white settlers in North America destroyed native cultures. So did the white settlers in Australia. What right do they have to claim a ‘right’ to exist?
Israel is a particular case. It was an anomaly from the start, a settler-state established not at the height of imperialism but at a time of decolonization and self-determination. The very organization which upheld these principles in its foundation documents, the United Nations, broke them in the case of Israel. There was no democratic vote on the future of Palestine.
The vote in favour of partition squeaked through the General Assembly in 1947 because the US threatened to punish vulnerable countries unless they voted ‘yes.’ Driving the majority of the indigenous people off their land, the Zionist settler-state then destroyed about 500 of their villages, after looting houses of everything they contained, furniture, carpets, books and even small household fittings.
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