Yes, Israel Has A Right To Exist. And We Have A Right To Demand You Recognize It.
In a recent op-ed in these pages, Yousef Munayyer argued that no state has an inherent right to exist.
“States don’t exist because they have a ‘right’ to,” he wrote. “They exist because certain groups of people amassed enough political and material power to make territorial claims and establish governments, sometimes with the consent of those already living there and, oftentimes, at their expense.”
For this reason, Mynayyer wrote, the question “Does Israel have a right to exist?” is a trick question.
This is wrong. Israel does have a right to exist. This right is clearly mentioned in UN Resolutions 181, 242 and 338. In 2004, the International Court of Justice declared that the wall built by Israel in the West Bank was illegal, but it also declared that Israel had the right to exist.
Second of all, there is no unlimited right of return for Palestinian refugees. Yes, UN General Assembly resolution 181 calls for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees. However, this resolution does not supersede resolutions that recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Resolution 242 says clearly that the resolution of the refugee issue ought to take into account the right of all states in the region to exist in peace and security. And Resolution 242 takes precedence over other resolutions, because the UN Security Council voted on it, and the General Assembly resolutions have much less legal clout.
Interestingly enough, there would be a way to reconcile the right of return with the existence of Israel, in the form of a confederation with open borders. Such a framework would allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live and move across the border while remaining citizens of their respective states. However, the BDS movement has condemned this initiative and forced a movement calling for a Palestinian-Israeli confederation to cancel its inaugural event in the West Bank.
In other words, BDS uses the right of return merely as a trick (to use Munayyer’s language) to justify the abrogation of Jewish self-determination.
It is important to keep in mind that the Palestinians also bear responsibility for the failure of peace talks, seeing how they rejected all of the peace plans that were put on the table over the last 19 years, including the Kerry/Obama peace plan of 2014.
Second, Palestinian extremists destroyed Israel’s peace camp by sowing fear in the hearts of Israelis — for no reason. (They did this with Arafat’s complicity, when he secretly funded terrorism during the Second Intifada.)
Finally, there can’t be peace as long as both sides do not understand that this conflict is not a not a conflict between good and evil but rather a clash of rights. The Palestinians do not need to change their narrative to do so. They just need to recognize that the Jews who settled in Palestine did not conquer this land to enrich themselves, which is usually the purpose of a colonial invasion.
The Palestinians argue, with good reason, that the creation of a Jewish state in an Arab land was an injustice to them. Most liberal Zionists acknowledge this reality. However, the founding fathers of Israel argued that leaving the Jews homeless would also be an injustice — especially in the context of the widespread anti-Semitism that prevailed in the 1940s.
Indeed, it was impossible to know back then that anti-Semitism would recede so much in the following decades. Hence, wanting to create a Jewish state not only to allow the Jews to become politically independent, but above all, to protect them against anti-Semitism, was not a whim. This is why both Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann argued that dividing the land was a lesser evil.
Besides, Zionism saved the lives of 500,000 Jews who managed to reach Palestine before it was too late.
As for the Nakba, both sides are responsible for this, too, as the Palestinians were the ones who attacked the Yishuv in the first place. (In the course of this war, all Jewish people living in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem were either killed or expelled). I am not blaming the Arabs for having tried to preserve the integrity of their territory, but there is no reason to blame Israel alone, either.
Of course Israel has a right to exist. And we wouldn’t need to ask you about it if it wasn’t always being denied.
Bernard Bohbot is a member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now and JSpaceCanada.
Correction: An earlier draft misidentified Resolution 181 as Resolution 194. We regret the error.