by Sonja Karkar
The following article was first published in CounterPunch on 2 October 2007. Much of what was said then remains relevant almost three years later. It has been updated only to take into account some of the events since then.
It is a curious phrase this “right to exist”. Israel wants the world to accept its “right to exist” as a state, but it denies the indigenous Palestinians their right to exist as a people in their own land. International relations only acknowledges the rights of people, not states.  States exist because of the formal recognition afforded them by other states, and now that Israel is recognised as a state, it in fact exists. It makes no sense to demand that a political party recognise Israel’s “right to exist”, much less punish 4 million Palestinians because a majority voted the Hamas Party into government. Yet, these are the very words that are holding the Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, to an impossible ransom.
For the outside world, Israel’s demand for the “right to exist” seems a natural enough request and easy enough words to say. However, most people have no idea of the real import of those words for the Palestinians. For them to accept the “right to exist”, effectively means that they accept their own dispossession. That dispossession is still going on after 60 years and there are now some 6 million Palestinian refugees who are refused their right to return home or even a modicum of compensation. And, that is not counting the 4 million Palestinians under Israel’s occupation who daily see more of their land taken from them while they are squeezed and contained in what remains, or the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens in Israel whose rights are being increasingly compromised and denied. As long as the Palestinians exist, Israel will always see them as an obstacle to its ultimate quest for an exclusively “Jewish state” in a greater Israel.
Israel’s demand that its “right to exist” be recognised, is constantly fluid. Israel refuses to accept any demarcated borders and certainly not the internationally-recognised Green Line of 1967 and is the only nation in the world without declared borders.  As far back as 1948, Israel determined that its territory had to be more than the 55 per cent given it by the UN partition and wasted no time in its ruthless expropriation of Palestinian land – driving out the Palestinians or simply forcing them to live under Israel’s occupation. The 78 per cent of Palestinian land that it amassed is now recognised as Israel, and it is that area that was painfully acknowledged by Palestinian Chairman Arafat in 1988 as “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. His crucial mistake was to ask for nothing in return. He should at the very least have demanded that Israel recognise the right of Palestinians to exist as a free people in all of the remaining 22 per cent. Israel, of course, accorded no such right to the Palestinians who continued to live – and still do – without any peace or security under Israel’s occupation. Before, then and since, the grave injustice of Palestinian dispossession has never been redressed.
When Arafat held up the olive branch and said “do not let the olive branch fall from my hand’, that was the moment that Israel could have freed the Palestinians from its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and allowed a Palestinian state to exist side by side with Israel. Edward Said saw it clearly when he stated “only the Palestinians explicitly recognised the notion of partition. Israel never has.”  Instead, Israel intensified its illegal settlement enterprise and continued with its mass immigration program of Jews from around the world to settle them inside occupied Palestinian territory. By the time Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak made his fallacious “generous offer” of land to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000,  the Palestinians had barely 12 per cent left of their historic homeland, and ten years later, it has been whittled down to around 7 per cent. So, it is perfectly legitimate for the Palestinians to ask – on how much of the land does Israel want to exist?
Every policy and action undertaken by Israel is focused on creating an exclusively Jewish state in all of Palestine. From the very beginning, Zionist leaders made sure that all land taken would be held in trust on behalf of “the Jewish people in perpetuity”.  Through a process of confiscation and transfer – known as “redeeming the land” – Jews worldwide have available to them land for lease in Israel. This discriminates outrageously against the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens living inside Israel who are not given equal rights with the immigrant Jews and who are allowed to live on only 3 per cent of the land while the rest is available solely to Israel’s Jewish citizens. They are finding themselves more and more isolated from the rest of Israeli society with none of the privileges as Israel finds even more fiendish ways to contain its demographic problem. It is a real problem because Israel wants a “Jewish” state, not a “state for all its citizens”; it wants a democracy for “Jews only”, not a democracy for all its citizens. This should give pause to anyone holding up Israel’s “beacon of democracy” as something to admire.
Furthermore, when Israel insists on the Palestinians accepting its “right to exist”, it has everything to do with the Palestinians signing off on their own dispossession and nothing to do with Israel’s fear of an existential threat. Israel’s survival is guaranteed because of its overwhelming military might and not by the Palestinians recognising its “right to exist”. It is the fourth most powerful army in the world  and there is not an Arab nation today that would challenge Israel’s war machine. If Israel allowed a Palestinian state to exist, Israel knows very well that it would never have the military capacity to threaten Israel’s existence. However, demanding that “right” makes for powerful propaganda as the world is still held in thrall by the David and Goliath illusion.
A worrying development in these past weeks has come from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who told US Jewish leaders in Washington “I would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel.”  In 2007, it had already been reported that Abbas had given Israeli Prime Minister Olmert a commitment to recognise Israel as “a state for the Jews”. If true, it would really give free rein to Israel’s already racist policies and practices. The Palestinians living inside Israel would find themselves not only discriminated against, but very likely in danger of being ethnically cleansed from the Jewish state. It would also absolutely negate the inalienable right of Palestinians to return home, and all the rights the Palestinians have under international law would suddenly become irrelevant.
Needless to say, such reports (if indeed they are true) leave the Palestinians wondering what is left to them after all the years of sacrifice and struggle. Despite the numerous United Nations resolutions that have been passed acknowledging their rights, despite Israel flagrantly breaching international law and continuing to violate their very person and property, despite the meticulously documented evidence of Palestinians having been massacred and terrorised into fleeing so Israel can appropriate their land, despite the voices of respected world figures exposing Israel’s apartheid practices, despite Jewish voices increasingly raised in protest against Israel’s racist policies, despite internationals risking and losing their own lives to help the Palestinians in non-violent acts of resistance, the Palestinians are staring at a future that refuses to recognise the gross injustices done to them, much less provide any protection for their existence: that is, if Israel has its way.
No other nation in the world demands a “right to exist”. The notion most likely arose in international relations because former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in 1975 that the US “will not recognise or negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as long as the PLO does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338”.  The international community took up the refrain and continues posing the question “What about Israel’s right to exist?”, but almost no one asks about the right of Palestinians to exist.
With each demand, we are seeing Israel edge closer to its ultimate goal. Ehud Olmert let us know as much when he said to the US Congress on 24 May 2006 that he believes the Jewish people have “an eternal and historic right to this entire land”.  It could not be clearer: Israel demands the right to exist as an exclusively Jewish State in all of Palestine. The Palestinians do not figure in this scenario at all. No wonder previous peace negotiations have failed and there is nothing to suggest that the November peace conference will be any different. As long as Israel refuses to recognise Palestinian rights, and as long as international interlocutors insist on Israel’s “right to exist” over the rights of people, every attempt at negotiating peace will be doomed to failure.
The situation for the Palestinians right now is very dangerous. Israel’s settlement enterprise has been largely achieved: 42 per cent of the West Bank is off limits to the Palestinians and the rest has been virtually cantonised with movement all but restricted between them. Gaza is totally isolated. There is not a border or space in or around Palestinian land that is not controlled by Israel. Also, Israel is creating facts on the ground that have already made it impossible for the Palestinians to have their state within the 1967 Green line. What is left has been made deliberately confusing and has led to the myth of the “generous” offer. The 92 per cent that Israel is again offering the Palestinians, is 92 per cent of the 22 per cent of land left within the Green line, not 92 per cent of the whole that the Palestinians originally owned. Such an offer is frankly insulting and so are the further border adjustments that Israel is making even as the offer is on the table. It shows to what audacious lengths Israel will go to exist as a Jewish state. That it is at the expense of the Palestinian right to exist in their own land, is illegal and immoral. It would be suicide for the Palestinian leadership to agree to anything that is not reciprocated, particularly the unconditional recognition of the Jewish state and the demand for its “right to exist”.
Previous web link http://www.counterpunch.org/karkar10022007.html
 Burchill, Dr Scott – “Does Israel’s “right to exist” actually exist?” crikey.com, 10 October 2006 “According to some theorists from the “realist” tradition of international relations, states have no “right” to exist because such a right cannot be enforced by a higher authority than the state. . . Acknowledging a state’s right to exist, or insisting on such a pledge from others, is therefore a meaningless gesture – or worse, a political tactic.”
 Said, Prof Edward – “What Israel has done”, The Nation, (18 April 2002 – 6 May, 2002 issue)
 Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) “’How Generous is Generous?’ in Crossroads of Conflict: Israeli-Palestinian Relations Face an Uncertain Future”, Special Report, Winter 2000
An analysis of the Israeli proposals by FMEP concluded that Israel:
1. only proposed to relinquish control over between 77.5-81 percent of the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, which most likely included Israel’s retaining of the Jordan Valley.
2. wanted sovereignty over one-third of occupied East Jerusalem and all of West Jerusalem.
3. wanted control of the third holiest site in Islam, al-Haram al-Sharif (which Israel refers to as the ‘Temple Mount’), where “Israel, incredibly, also demanded Palestinian agreement to the construction of a synagogue.”
 Palestine Land Society, “Financing Racism and Apartheid – Jewish National Fund’s Violation of International and Domestic Law”, August 2005, p.4
 Hassan, Ghali, “Are Israel’s Interests in America’s Interests?” Countercurrents.org,
(29 March 2006) http://www.countercurrents.org/hassan290306.htm ;
Pilger, John, “Children of the Dust”, New Statesman, (28 May 2007) http://www.newstatesman.com/200705280029
 Natasha Mozgovaya, “Abbas tells US Jews: I would never deny Jewish right to the land of Israel” Haaretz, (10 June 2010)
 Israel-United States Memorandum of Understanding, 1 September 1975
“Accord on Geneva 2. The United States will continue to adhere to its present policy with respect to the Palestine Liberation Organization, whereby it will not recognize or negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization so long as the Palestine Liberation Organization does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”
 Address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Joint Meeting of US Congress, 24 May 2006