Do Israel and Palestine exist?

Zionists often say that the Palestinians deny the right of Israel to exist. In fact, there is no such right. The Soviet Union has ceased to exist, so has Yugoslavia. Italy has existed as a unified state only since 1862. States exist if they have a defined territory, a permanent population and a government, and/or are recognized by other states.  Membership of the United Nations is an important additional recognition, but is not obligatory.

The State of Israel was declared in 1948. It is one of about 200 member states of the United Nations, although 32 other member states do not recognize it .

In its Declaration of statehood it said that it is established “in Eretz-Israel” (the Land of Israel, Palestine). Eretz-Israel is a biblical term without precise definition, but certainly includes the whole of Mandatory Palestine. The phrase “in Eretz-Israel” does not imply that the Israeli state claims the whole of Eretz-Israel. Indeed, the Declaration envisages an “economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel”, implying that there will be other states within the Land with which such a union could be formed. The legal, declared and recognized borders of Israel are those of the 1947 UN Partition Plan. However, after the 1949 Armistice between Israel and the Arab states, Israel decided to administer the occupied territory between the legal borders and the Armistice Line as part of the state of Israel, so the Armistice Line is the de facto border (also called the pre-1967 border).

Despite these two ‘deficiencies’ (my word) in its statehood (lack of full recognition, occupying land outside its legal borders), Israel’s right to exist has been recognized by the Palestinians. In 1993, in an exchange of letters at the end of the Oslo talks, Yasser Arafat  write to the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin:

“The PLO recognizes the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.”

PLO is the Palestine Liberation Organisation, recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas, the Palestinian organisation in control of Gaza, in its Charter (1988) calls for the establishment of a Muslim state in Palestine through violent resistance to Zionism. At the moment, Hamas certainly does not recognize Israel. This does not necessarily mean that it never will. Charters are historic documents, and do not necessarily represent current policy. (For example, for 60 years the Irish Republic claimed sovereignty over the British province of Northern Ireland, but did nothing to put that claim into effect. For 60 years, Clause 4 of the British Labour Party promised to nationalise “the means of production, distribution and exchange”, but successive Labour Governments only applied this to a few key industries.) Hamas has in recent years operated cease-fires and offered a long-term truce. Recent statements by some Hamas leaders indicate that they may be willing to renounce violence and accept the two-state solution.

The State of Palestine was declared in 1988 and this was acknowledged by the General Assembly of the United Nations.  It is not a full member, but has observer status. It is recognised by 132 members of the UN (well over half). It is a member of UNESCO and the Arab League.

In its Declaration it did not define its borders, but stated that its capital is Jerusalem. However, in its application for UN membership it mentions that its application is based on the pre-1967 borders. That means its territory consists of the remaining parts of Palestine outside the 1949 Armistice Line, i.e the West Bank and Gaza, which have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967 (blockade in the case of Gaza). It is not a sovereign and independent state, being under Israeli occupation, but the Palestine Authority administers some parts of the West Bank.

Palestine therefore has two ‘deficiencies’ in its statehood, lack of control of its territory, and lack of full recognition.

The State of Israel does not recognize the existence of Palestine.

In the exchange of letters at Oslo, Rabin’s letter did not reciprocate Arafat’s recognition of Israel. It merely said

The Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.”

Here are some extracts from the Likud Party Charter of 1999.

The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.

The Jordan Valley and the territories that dominate it shall be under Israeli sovereignty. The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.

Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel.

In a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu seemingly made a move towards the acceptance of a two-state solution. However, there were many conditions attached to this. In particular, the Palestinian state must be demilitarised, without an army or control of its air space, and unable to import weapons or make pacts with other nations. So in this vision Palestine would never be a sovereign and independent state.

About David Gerald Fincham

Retired academic scientist.
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