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Taufiq Rahim

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Israel's Legitimacy Flows Through Palestine

Posted: 09/20/11 06:15 PM ET

"It's impossible to impose peace from the outside. It won't happen," bellowed confidently long-time Israeli spokesman Mark Regev in his robust Australian accent. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon expressed incredulously, "They say they are against violence but then they use political violence." Even the Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu pointedly called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to "stop wasting time". Israeli officials have been pseudo-confidently telling whoever will listen that the Palestinian pursuit for recognition at the United Nations is an affront to the peace process. Didn't the Palestinians know that their legitimacy -- and the creation of their state -- flows through Israel? At some point in the last couple of years the mainstream Palestinian political leadership finally emerged out of Plato's cave and answered that rhetorical question: It's Israel's legitimacy that flows in fact through Palestine.

The claim that the Palestinian effort at the UN seeks to discredit the State of Israel is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. In fact it is Israel's future legitimacy that derives from the creation of a Palestinian state. The longer its political leaders procrastinate, the more tenuous its legitimacy as a democratic and viable state becomes.

What is remarkable about the recent campaign by the PLO leadership in pursuing recognition of Palestine at the United Nations, is that it is at its heart about arriving at a peaceful resolution to the conflict and recognizing Israel's right to exist. Explicit in the recognition of Palestine on the basis of previous UN resolutions (242 and 338) is that Israel has a right to exist on 78% of historic Palestine. Moreover, rather than pursue a resolution by way of violence, Abbas and his team have invested in the diplomatic and legal process. Instead of being praised or rewarded the Israelis and many U.S. politicians have invoked the spirit of Chicken Little and declared that the sky is falling. The moment presented in front of the world is one where 'moderates' (according to the West) can genuinely be empowered. Instead the opposite is occurring, as the U.S. Congress threatens to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Abbas continues with his push for recognition.

While the U.S. will likely veto and thwart the Palestinian bid for recognition at the Security Council, this will not do much to end the effort. In fact, this is just the beginning of a last stand by Palestinians for a two-state solution before the latter idea is deemed itself to not have any viability. If the U.S. and Israel oppose even the symbolic recognition of Palestine at the United Nations, what prospects for a real two-state solution are there? There is a dreamy aspect to an Eretz Israel that encompasses Judea and Samaria in some hyper-Jewish state but it is precisely that -- a dream. The longer Israel punts a realistic and explicit commitment to a two-state solution the more it undercuts its own legitimacy. Israel today is surrounded by a changing Middle East, where it is losing its political, economic, and military edge; traditional allies such as Turkey and Egypt are quickly transforming into adversaries. Demographically it cannot continue to lord over the West Bank, Gaza (yes Gaza), and East Jerusalem (yes East Jerusalem) for time immemorial without facing a scenario of apartheid. The latter point is not made by a pro-Palestinian peacenik but rather by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak.

What is the alternative presented to the Palestinians by Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman or U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) for that matter? Thus far there is no light offered at the end of the tunnel. Moreover, by rejecting the current Palestinian attempt to enshrine a two-state solution at the United Nations, Israel risks opening the pandora's box of what's next. Who is to say that the Palestinian leadership in the face of a lack of progress won't switch to backing a bi-national democratic state à la South Africa? In the eyes of the world -- which is generally supportive including in U.S. popular opinion of the Palestinian attempt at recognition -- how legitimate would the State of Israel be without a Palestine?

It seems that both Israel and the U.S. have already made up their minds regarding the vote this week. However, this issue will not disappear and will continue to linger. The Palestinian leadership is trying to firmly establish the legitimacy of the two state solution and the existence of Israel. The question remains will Israel undermine its own legitimacy in response?

 

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