The “Right to Exist”: A Double-Edged Red Herring

When negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians begin to gather steam or, as is the case now, seem to be re-starting, emotions on both sides are stirred by the question of Israel’s “right to exist,” particularly its right, or lack of same, to exist as a Jewish state.

That such a debate would raise passions to a boiling point on both sides is self-evident. For Israelis, the question goes to the very legitimacy of their state and to the history of the Zionist movement. More, it implies a question of whether it is morally justifiable to seek to destroy Israel by any means necessary.

For Palestinians, the question has two layers: one, acknowledging and recognizing that Zionism succeeded in establishing the Jewish state. The second layer implies a demand that Palestinians acknowledge that their dispossession was justified and legitimate. Most, though far from all, Palestinians can accept the first layer. But search as hard as you might and it is unlikely you’ll find more Palestinians than you can count with your fingers that can accept the second.

Such a vexing question is not asked about other countries. The “right” of the United States to exist was not questioned before, during or after the Americans and their colonial predecessors nearly wiped out the native population. The right of Lebanon, a country sliced out of Greater Syria with an arbitrary pen stroke on a map, or of Jordan, a country split apart from the rest of the British Mandate over Palestine, to exist is not similarly questioned. But Israel’s is. By the same token, those countries do not ask for their “right to exist” to be acknowledged, merely that their sovereignty be recognized and respected. But Israel does ask this. Continue reading

Stumbling Down the Road to Annapolis

My e-mail box has seen a great many messages in the past week calling for protest of the upcoming Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, MD. These have provided more evidence of how well the extreme right and left actually get along quite well despite disliking each other so intensely.

Americans for A Safe Israel is bringing its demonstrators to Annapolis. They essentially object to any settlement of the conflict that is not tantamount to a complete surrender on the part of the Palestinians and Arab states. They will be joined by the starkly Orwellian-named Shalom International, a Christian group that opposes any withdrawal by Israel from the Occupied Territories on religious grounds.

While no left-wing groups have, as of yet, announced any intention of physically protesting the conference, messages of protest from various small groups have been circulating. Most of these have been based on the point that the “Bush agenda” is being forwarded at the conference and therefore it should be opposed out of hand. Typically, alternatives are not presented nor, from my experience, even thought about for a moment.

Two liberal Jewish groups, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu, have also announced that they plan to demonstrate in support of the conference.

In truth, this is much ado about nothing. The agenda for the conference has yet to be set, but the past few months have seen the Americans, Israelis and the Palestinian Authority all working overtime to tamp down expectations of this conference. And with good reason. Continue reading