Israel has positioned itself as the only state whose very legitimacy is perceived as inextricably connected to its readiness to make territorial concessions.
The ongoing discussion among Jewish leaders worldwide about the line between “legitimate criticism of Israel” and the assault against its legitimacy must also consider when self-criticism transforms into self-delegitimization .
The intensifying, multipronged assault against Israel’s historical and legal legitimacy is cause for concern. Economic, academic and cultural boycotts and sanctions have been intensifying in Europe and on US campuses, while arrest warrants have been issued against Israeli government and military leaders in European courts at the request of Palestinian Authority leaders and networks of Islamic and Western groups.
The response to the current assault that charges Israel with being an apartheid, Nazi state raises an uncomfortable question. Has official Israel on occasion submitted to “war weariness” by adopting the language and narrative of some of its toughest adversaries? As an example, some senior officials have said on several occasions over the past two years – once in the presence of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – that if Israel does not create a Palestinian state immediately, it will become either a binational or apartheid state.
Aside from the profound inaccuracy of the comparison to formerly apartheid South Africa, this self-criminalization energizes opponents and encourages them to avoid compromising while it frustrates friends and allies who are leading the fight against the assault and in defense of its rights.
It may not come as a surprise that several months ago, a Fayyad adviser told Al-Hayat al- Jadida that “Israel represents a policy of state terror which the Zionist apartheid state is carrying out against the Palestinians.”
In political warfare, words are lethal weapons. It would behoove Israeli and Jewish leaders to avoid being the inadvertent “weapons suppliers” of the country’s adversaries.
Adopting the language of the Palestinians is only part of the problem. The challenge also extends to passively accepting their narrative.
Since 1993 and the Oslo exchange of letters between the PLO and the Rabin government, a desperate determination to achieve an elusive peace agreement has led Israel to make far-reaching and ongoing concessions.
THE PALESTINIANS for their part have shied away from making concessions and instead have continued to insist on their rights and historical justice. This has created an asymmetry whereby Israel emphasizes peace while the Palestinians underscore rights.
Paradoxically, the constant readiness to part with territories for peace and the adoption of a concession-based diplomacy mirrors the perception of some in the West, particularly in Europe, that the Jewish state is an international outlaw that is merely giving back lands over which it has no claim. This misperception of rightful ownership has extended to Jerusalem.
Perhaps inadvertently, Israel has positioned itself as the only member of the international state system whose very legitimacy is perceived as being inextricably connected to its readiness to make additional territorial concessions to the PA. This “I give, therefore I am” kind of identity has robbed it of inherent legitimacy in many international circles. Furthermore, its concession-based diplomacy denies its rights-based narrative and ends up empowering Palestinian “rights-based” demands.
IT WOULD be well served by reviving the traditional rights-based diplomacy that founders such as David Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban spoke of with unbridled passion.
Eban told the UN on various occasions of “a devotion to the holy city that has been a constant theme of our people for 3,00 years.” Yitzhak Rabin too reminded the Knesset in October 1995 – one month before his assassination – that he would insist on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty in any future peace agreement.
Today, despite mistaken assertions by many – including not a few presidents and prime ministers in the free world – that Israel’s right to sovereignty began following the Holocaust with the 1947 UN partition plan, it bears repeating that the Jewish national project began more than 3,000 years ago, when King David first established Jerusalem as his capital.
The modern expression of this 3,000-year national project was affirmed twice last century.
The League of Nations in 1922 noted, in the Mandate for Palestine, “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine, and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” This international recognition of the Jewish people’s preexisting national rights to sovereignty was subsequently preserved by article 80 of the United Nations Charter.
In 1948, the establishment of the State of Israel marked the third time the Jewish people established its independent commonwealth in the land of Israel.
It is this modern expression of Jewish self-determination that is under acute political assault primarily by Palestinian groups working in close coordination with Islamists and radical Western groups.
The only way the Jewish world can effectively combat the growing political assault is by standing shoulder to shoulder and tightly embracing the Jewish people’s rights-based language and narrative. Only then will they be able to stand on firm ground, anchored in historical truth and international law to defeat the attempts by unrelenting adversaries to undermine the legitimate right of the Jewish people to self- determination.
The writer is secretary-general-designate of the World Jewish Congress.