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Do You Think Palestine Has the Right to Exist?

On a Facebook page, a colleague accuses me of hate speech. He accuses me of “questioning Israel’s right to exist,” which he says “crosses a line and, is I believe, tantamount to anti-Semitism.” This is a serious charge. Have I denied Israel’s right to exist? Certainly not. Israel exists. It is a member state of the United Nations. Its factual basis is undeniable. Even Hamas does not “deny” Israel’s right to exist. Its Charter, written during the First Intifada in 1987, bears the marks of the moment. But it does not define Hamas’ politics, for which a reading of its 2006 election manifesto gives a much clearer picture. In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal “urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter,” for, in Meshal’s words, “We are shaped by our experiences.” What is the Hamas position, the Times’ reporters asked Meshal? “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Nothing here is outside the international consensus. Israel is not denied by Meshal, the leader of Hamas.


False clichés do not make for good arguments. To continue to say, as my colleague and others do, that those who criticize Israel are hateful because they deny its right to existence are repeating a fabrication. They should pay attention to what the pillar of Israeli politics–the Likud Party–says. They will perhaps be surprised if they glance in that direction.

Israel’s ruling party, the Likud, flatly denies Palestine’s right to exist. Evidence is easily found for this position in Likud’s 1999 platform, which says, “The Jordan River will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.” In other words, the West Bank cannot exist as part of Palestine. Furthermore, it says, “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.” In other words, East Jerusalem–part of the Palestinian state–will remain under Israeli occupation and will be illegally annexed into Israel. Settlements can never be removed because “the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values.” These settlements were removed from Gaza, but that was it. Gaza, under siege by Israel, is the only enclave that is not to be annexed fully.

Is Likud’s politics shaped by its experiences? Has its softened its views since 1999? In fact, the current Israeli government, led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, has pushed a harder line in defense of the settlements in the West Bank, for the full annexation of East Jerusalem and for the tightest control of the Gaza Strip. The policy of the current government is not for a two-state solution, but for the suffocation of Palestine. Netanyahu’s cabinet reeks of hate speech. His Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan said of Palestinians in 2013, “To me they are like animals; they aren’t human.” Last year, Israel’s Welfare Minister Haim Katz said, “The land of Israel is whole. There is no Palestine.” He said that the Palestinians should go off to Jordan. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon denied the Palestinians the basic elements of humanity. Israelis mourn their dead, he said earlier this year, while Palestinians “seek death,” living in a “society that respects nothing.” Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked compared Palestinians to “snakes” and called for their destruction, “They have to die.” Neither has Netanyahu distanced himself from this hateful language, nor have the supporters of Israel been called to account for such talk. It passes as normal.

On May 12th, Israel celebrated its Independence Day. My friend Raja Khalidi drove through the Jordan Valley–a landscape marked by the history of monotheism. At one end sits the Jordan River, which is a trickle of what it must have been in biblical times. In the heart of the Jordan Valley is the Ghor (depression), the alluvial plain that is fertile and healthy. It is here that the Israeli government has–with private and public money from the United States–created a host of illegal settlements that control forty per cent of the arable land in the Jordan Valley. Khalidi drove north from Ramallah, past Halamish–one of the West Bank settlement regional council centers. What did he see there? “There were maybe five hundred settler cars parked along the sides of the roads for a km before and after the center, with families, children, flags and good mood all come to celebrate their day on their land, sitting in nearby forests and eating ice cream.” What struck Khalidi was that “there was hardly an Uzi or military vehicle in sight. These revelers seemingly safe and at home even as Palestinian taxis and vehicles sped by, ferrying their passenger from one Palestinian enclave to another.”

The settlers are not pioneers, but residents of agricultural conglomerates backed by the full might of the Israeli army and funded with donations from around the world. A recent study by Nur Arafeh, Samia al-Botmeh and Leila Farsakh for al-Shabaka found–for example–that 40 percent of date exports from Israel come from the Jordan Valley, and that the exploitation of this land provides Israel with an annual revenue of around $130 million. These are resources stolen from the Palestinians under the Oslo agreement. Over the past five years, $220 million in private US tax-free donations have funded these settlements. That the US government allows private donations for illegal settlements to be seen as tax-free charity is itself an official subsidy. International law is clear that these settlements are illegal. There is no qualification here. The United Nations has several times indicated that these settlements are the roadblock to the peace process. They make a mockery of any dialogue about a two-state solution.

Meanwhile, in the southern Israeli town of Rahat, in the Negev Desert, Palestinians marched this year May 12 to commemorate their expulsion–the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948. The organizers of this march came from the Bedouin community, which is fiercely defending its right to the land against the Prawer Plan–a mechanism to camouflage the expropriation of Palestinian Bedouin in the name of economic development. Thousands of Palestinians–including Palestinians who are part of the Joint Arab List in the Israeli Parliament–marched against the Prawer Plan and for the Palestinian “right of return” to their country. Ayman Odeh, a socialist leader of the Joint Arab List, said at Rahat, “Recognizing the Nakba, a terrible crime, and working to correct the injustice is the only true path to reconciliation between our peoples.” This was a powerful statement. It represents the soul of Palestinian politics, which seeks a way forward rather than to build cages and call them nations.

Khalidi is wistful. “I thought as I drove,” he said, that the settlers “visit the forest they planted to cover the traces of the villages they destroyed on the very sites that Palestinians visit on Nakba Day on May 15th.” These disappeared villages are part of the denial of the right for Palestine to exist. “That’s our story,” says Khalidi. It is barely one that is allowed to be heard.

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