Monday, October 20, 2014

Right to Exist

Sounds good. What's it mean?
One of the primary political/diplomatic debates of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the discussion around Israel's 'right to exist'.  This is a curious construct, and one that deserves a great deal more consideration than is typically given. There really isn't this kind of debate over any other nation. Even in the case of controversial nascent nations such as Kosovo or South Sudan, there is no question of their 'right to exist' - merely a question of international recognition of that existence. Indeed, what entity can even grant a nation such a right? And wouldn't a Palestinian nation have a similar 'right'?

But Israel isn't appealing to some international body to vouchsafe its right to exist - it demands that its adversaries - Palestinian groups like Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah and regional nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia - concede simply that it has such a right. But the belief in a nation's right to exist is influenced by all manner of external and domestic political considerations. Did Great Britain believe the United States had a right to exist in the early decades of the 19th century? China certainly doesn't believe Taiwan has a right to exist. Does Kurdistan have a right to exist? How about Azawad?

To further complicate matters, a nation's right to exist in no way conveys any kind of protection, or guarantee of longevity. There was no real question of the Ottoman Empire's right to exist, right up until it ceased to exist and its territory and holdings were gobbled up by other powers. And all the years of my life, right up until that day in 1991 when it no longer existed, I never heard anyone question that the Soviet Union had a right to exist. Indeed, it seems that the reality of a nation's existence - along with the political, diplomatic, economic and military strength required for enforcement of said existence - is all that is required for the international community at large to assume that a nation has such a right.

One must assume that the goal of the Israeli leadership is to create a condition where their adversaries are not officially committed to Israel's ultimate destruction. And that would certainly make negotiations simpler, even if it makes no sense for an advanced, modern nuclear power to take seriously the aspirational goals of the decades old founding document of a ragtag rebel paramilitary. But when considered in broader terms, it seems an odd demand for the Israeli leadership to make. If, for example, Hezbollah was to announce tomorrow that they would accept Israel's right to exist, but continue to resist the occupation, does anyone for one minute truly think that would change anything? Would Israel accept that statement as Hezbollah's true goal? Iran has insisted for a decade, from every level of government and clergy that they do not want and would not develop nuclear weapons, and yet Tel Aviv has disregarded these repeated statements as lies and attempts to 'buy time' to develop nuclear weapons. For better or worse, they are not prone to take seriously any claims from their adversaries that run counter to their own institutional beliefs.

So to summarize. It's hard to understand what a national 'right to exist' might even mean. There is no body that can grant such a right. There is no effective way to deny that a nation has a right to exist. Some new nations don't receive universal recognition or diplomatic relations, but their existence is never discussed in terms of a right or lack thereof. A nation's existence itself constitutes its right to exist - that right is not granted by other nations or organizations acceptance, the right to existence is contained within existence itself. If it was any different, then we would be having this discussion about more than a single nation.

1 comment:

  1. One must assume that the goal of the Israeli leadership is to create a condition where their adversaries are not officially committed to Israel's ultimate destruction.

    It's an excuse to mow the lawn.