By Jeremy Salt
No state established on land seized by force from the people living on that land can claim moral legitimacy and a ‘right’ to exist.
A purported ‘right’ to exist is not central to the existence of states anyway, let alone colonial settler states established amidst the wreckage of the genuine rights of another people.
States exist because they have strong armies because their enemies are too weak to destroy them, because they have good relations with near and far neighbors whose respect they have earned and because they have the consent of the people they govern.
They do not exist because of an imagined ‘right’ to exist. Were that to be the case, no state would ever have risen and then fallen in history. They would all still be here.
Israel understands this as well as anyone. It makes a lot of noise about its right to exist and its legitimacy but this is bluster. It knows why it exists and why it believes it will continue to exist. It has a strong military. It has nuclear weapons. It can destroy anyone who threatens to destroy it. These are the constituent elements of its existence, not morality and the ‘rights’ of which it endlessly talks.
‘Rise up and kill first” is not just the motto of Mossad but of the state. This is what it has done repeatedly ever since 1948. It has risen up and killed first, but with declining efficiency and herein lies the danger to its existence.
Its enemies are catching up. It has these enemies, not because of opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. They certainly did oppose it but had this been followed with admissions of moral responsibility and legal liability, accompanied by material measures to make up for the damage done. Israel might have achieved a measure of consent within the Arab world.
It does have some but in a vacuous form. The treaty with Egypt has prevented war but the people of Egypt are as resolutely opposed to Israel as they were the day it was signed. This is not blind animosity but born of the fact that instead of working for a just peace, Israel has done its best to secure an unjust peace. It wants peace entirely on its own terms, which of course can never be achieved when two parties are in dispute if a serious peace really is the desired objective.
Israel’s bona fides are not genuine and never were. It has deceived not just its enemies but its partners. It has taken them for a ride. The Oslo ‘peace process’ was all process and no peace and was never designed, in the official Israeli mind, to lead to a genuine peace. It was aimed at achieving through an endlessly stretched-out ‘peace process’ what otherwise would have had to be achieved through war and it worked perfectly.
The trade-off for a genuine peace, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, are now densely settled. Facts always matter and nothing has mattered more to the Zionists from the beginning than creating facts on the ground that could not be removed because they were facts, irrespective of what the law said.
About a million settlers now live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank colonies. How can all these facts possibly be reversed, Netanyahu and his cohorts say with the palms of their hands extended helplessly as if they had nothing to do with this process and can’t do anything about it anyway.
Of course, they can be removed, as the French settlers in Algeria were in the 1960s, after 130 years of French occupation. Israel should have been made to remove its West Bank and East Jerusalem settlers long ago, apart from the fact that they never should have been there in the first place.
In any case, this should be regarded as Israel’s problem, instead of various governments accepting Israel’s justification of an illegal presence. One punishes the lawbreaker. One does not allow it to get away with the stolen goods.
The fact of settlement was intended to smother the question of illegality and in some minds, the American in particular, the strategy has succeeded. In the official US view the territories taken in 1967 are no longer occupied but ‘administered’ or ‘contested,’ enabling the next step, the shifting of the embassy to Jerusalem.
If Israel annexes all or most of the remainder of occupied Palestine the US will not oppose it and in time it will accept it, underlining the first point that the achievements of raw power, diplomatic, economic and military, are what is important to the Zionists and not the ephemera of legitimacy and the ‘right to exist.’ These phrases are fictions, distractions, the cover for a deeply immoral and deeply illegal process.
For Palestinians the state is illegitimate. There is absolutely no reason why they should think otherwise. There is no reason why they should have accepted a recommendation of the UN General Assembly in 1947 that was only passed because of threats by the US to vulnerable delegations.
There is no reason why they should accept their expulsion from their homeland, even if they have to deal somehow with the fact of Israel’s existence. No resolution gave Israel the right to take the land and drive out the people and no resolution could have given Israel such a right. Palestinian rights are inalienable.
The Palestinians have both law and morality on their side. Israel has neither. Even while claiming legitimacy and the ‘right to exist,’ it has never abided by the UN resolutions laid down as the conditions for its acceptance as a UN member.
But for the protective arm of the US, it may well have been suspended or expelled from the UN long ago. After all, what club accepts the membership of those who are warned time and again but still refuse to obey its rules?
States often violate international law. Israel is the only state in the world that lives in permanent, continuing violation of international law, not at one but many levels. This is not incidental or accidental but the necessary condition of its existence. To live within the law, to respect the law, would mean that Israel could not be what it wants to be and could not have what it wants to have.
To be what it wants to be, at least what every government has wanted it to be since 1948, Israel must live outside the law. The law is not relevant anyway. Israel sneers at the UN and has no respect for international law when it comes to Palestinian rights. It only respects its own laws, which of their nature are occupier’s laws and thus inconsistent with and indeed in violation of international law.
Israel’s strong right arm is all that really counts. ‘Friendships’ and pseudo-alliances, such as the ‘unbreakable bond’ with the US, are important but only for as long as they serve Israel’s interests. There is no sentiment here. Israel flattered Britain with fine phrases before jumping in the direction of the US when Britain had no more to give. For seven decades the US was the gift that kept giving but now that it is running out of steam as a global power, Israel has to hedge its bets, hence Netanyahu’s currying of favor with Vladimir Putin and the ramping up of its relations with China.
In the end, Israel’s ultimate defense is not questionable ‘friendships’ and ‘mutual interests’ that never last forever in the game of nations but its own strong right arm. So how strong is it?
Well, Israel has nuclear weapons and thus the ‘Samson option,’ the ability to pull down the roof on everyone’s head as well as its own. Whether, in the final resort, it will use these weapons is a question for the future but Israel’s possession of them has not deterred its enemies.
Rationally, perhaps it should have, but who is being rational here, a government and movements that resist occupation, as is their right in international law, or a government that continues an occupation, in defiance of law, morality and against the possibility of one day being able to call the people whose land it has taken and the states around its non-declared borders genuine ‘neighbors’? Against the possibility, it might be said, of one day really being able to call the Middle East home.
Whether or not the nuclear threat is a bluff, and given the extreme nature of Zionism, it probably is not, the resistance continues. With its nuclear weapons, yes, Israel has the capacity to destroy all life in the Middle East, but short of this, what about its conventional weaponry and military strength? Is this enough to hold its enemies at bay and beat them on every occasion?
The answer has to be probably not. In 1967 Israel caught Egypt and Syria napping. With their air forces destroyed on the ground, they were rendered almost helpless from the first day but it is most unlikely that there will be another 1967.
Since then Israel’s conventional military superiority has been slowly but perceptibly declining. In the size of the territory it has taken and the size of its population it lacks strategic depth. It must fight short wars. Thus, in 2006, after only a month of fighting Hizbullah, a guerrilla organization, not a regular army, it had to withdraw. The longer a war continues the less likely it is that it will be able to win it.
Its ‘victory’ in 1973 came about because Anwar Sadat stopped his army from fighting. In the first week of the war, the Israeli forces on the east bank of the Suez Canal were routed. Sadat never intended to defeat Israel because he knew the US would not allow it, so he declared an ‘operational pause’ after nine or ten days and handed Israel the opportunity to recover and cross the canal to the western side.
With Egypt sidelined militarily because of the 1979 ‘peace treaty’, Israel was free to go on the rampage elsewhere, mainly against Lebanon, a virtually defenseless target against the operations of a large army and air forces.
‘Incursions’ ending in thousands of civilian deaths led up to the invasion of 1982. What were the consequences? For Lebanon and the Palestinians, about 20,000 dead civilians, including the thousands killed in Sabra and Shatila. For Israel, yes, the defeat of the PLO was an achievement, but not much of one compared to the establishment of a far more dangerous enemy, Hizbullah.
By 2000 Hizbullah had driven Israel out of Lebanon and in 2006 it drove it back again. All Israel could do was use its air power to devastate cities, towns, and villages, but on the ground in the south, its highly rated Merkava tanks were destroyed and its troops outfought by Hizbullah’s part-time soldiers. This was a humiliating outcome for an army touted as one of the best in the world. Borrowing from Hizbullah, the Israeli military then increased the intake of ideologically committed recruits into the ranks of its officers, many of them from West Bank settler colonies.
Since then Israel has been itching to have another go at Hizbullah but this time the deterrence factor is working against it. It knows Hizbullah has built up an armory of missiles that can cause devastation across occupied Palestine. It knows its anti-missile defenses will not be able to stop many of them. In the meantime, while weighing up its chances and while preparing the blows that it says will destroy Lebanon as well as Hizbullah, it has a softer target to pick on, Gaza.
There, its onslaughts over the years, vicious in the extreme, brutal and inhumane, have killed many thousands of Palestinians. Hundreds of Palestinians, mostly very young, have been shot dead by snipers along the Gaza fence just in the past few months, without the Palestinian will to resist being destroyed.
The Israelis are now fighting balloons carrying fire into the occupied land, while Palestinians continue to strike at settlers occupying their land on the West Bank, despite the terrible consequences to themselves and their families.
Through all of this, Israel’s actions and reactions are becoming more hysterical, exposing psychological fragility and nervousness within the shell of outward confidence. It cannot shut down Palestinian resistance, its intimidation of Iran and Hizbullah has not worked and in the US there is a growing awareness that Israel is a violent racist state that does not merit by any means the large-scale support the US has always given it.
It is fighting back with all the weapons at its disposal, including hasbara, the attempt to criminalize the BDS movement and attacks on individual academics but the tide is running against it.
States need flexibility but Israel has none. Its power is brittle and like the oak against the willow, when the storm comes it is more likely to fall. After more than seven decades, it has no friends and allies in the Middle East worthy of the name. It uses Arab governments up just as they use it up but the Arab people are just as strongly opposed to this western colonial-settler implant in their midst as they always were. To repeat, this is not because they can’t adjust but because Israel can’t. In terms of being accepted by the Arab masses, it has not moved an inch forward.
History worked once for Israel but it is not working for it now. The wheel is turning against it. All it has on its side is armed might. By no means is this to be underrated but time does not stand still and neither do enemies convinced they have a just cause standing against a state that within itself knows it does not have a just cause.
Israel is always preparing for the next war but against a real enemy, nor just defenseless civilians reduced to fighting back with fire balloons, it is going to take casualties unprecedented in its history next time around.
This is the very least that is going to happen, and all because of the determination to create a Jewish state on territory populated by people who are not Jewish. In the arrogant, twisted mindset of Netanyahu, Naftali Bennet, Ayelet Shaked, Avigdor Lieberman and the racist rabbis and settlers urging them on, it is the ideology that matters and not the peace and security of the Jewish people living in Palestine. Legitimacy is not the point. The point of the sword is the point and just as Israel has lived by it, so must it live with the possibility that one day it will die by it.
– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.