By Michael Freund, who served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy
Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999.
May 15, 2002
Not surprisingly, the Likud Central Committee’s vote on Sunday to reaffirm its
opposition to a Palestinian state has elicited a stream of international
hand-wringing and condemnation.
Reuters labeled the decision “a further blow to prospects for Middle East peace
talks”, while ABC News, on its website, described it as “hardline”.
European Union Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana also expressed
disappointment, saying that, “everybody has recognized that the only way to
peace is through a state (for the Palestinians). It is a pity that internal politics
can make this process more difficult.”
That much of the world takes it for granted that the establishment of a
sovereign Palestinian entity is a prerequisite for Middle East peace is hardly
something new. Ever since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the idea has gained
momentum, as the Palestinians have succeeded in winning over international
public opinion to the idea that they should have a state of their own.
They have done so, of course, despite the fact that there has never been an
independent State of Palestine in all of history. Even prior to 1967, when
Judea, Samaria and Gaza were under Jordanian and Egyptian control, the
establishment of a Palestinian state in these areas was never seriously
But what is truly extraordinary is the extent to which the world is ready to
criticize Israel for not agreeing to the creation such a state. Though plenty of
other nations around the globe reject far more compelling claims to statehood
by minority groups, it seems that only Israel is slapped with the label of
“hardline” or “intransigent”.
Take the Basques, for example, who are seeking to establish an independent
state in northern Spain and southwestern France. Though Spain’s 1978
constitution granted the Basques limited autonomy in areas such as health and
education, the Spanish government has refused to even consider ceding
territory to meet many Basques’ demands for independence.
When was the last time the Spanish government was referred to as
“obstinate” or “unyielding” because of its Basque policy?
Then there is the issue of Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean under French
control. Separatist violence has sporadically erupted there for nearly three
decades, as the Corsican National Liberation Front has sought to force Paris to
grant the island its independence.
Though the French parliament passed a bill on December 19 of last year
aimed at giving Corsicans an element of autonomy, France’s Constitutional
Council tossed it out in January. In a bout of generosity, however, they did say
that Corsicans would be allowed to teach their own language in public schools.
And they call Israel “stubborn” and “inflexible”?
Needless to say, these examples only underline just how hypocritical many of
Israel’s critics can be. For, when it comes to promoting the idea of Palestinian
independence, they are all for it, but when the issue of minority rights hits
closer to home, they suddenly choose to apply a different standard (or is that a
The question of who “deserves” a state is one of the most pervasive, as well as
explosive, issues in international diplomacy. Russia has its Chechnya, China has
its Tibet, Canada has its Quebec, and England has its Northern Ireland.
Smaller states, such as Moldova and Georgia, also confront separatist
challenges, as ethnic groups demand a homeland of their own in the
Trans-Dniester region and Abkhazia, respectively.
Of course, if every group that claimed a distinct identity were to be granted its
own state, the result would be utter chaos.
Imagine if residents of the New York borough of Brooklyn were to decide to
secede and declare their own independent nation, citing their unique linguistic
identity and cultural heritage as justification. It may sound absurd, but why
should they be prevented from doing so?
After all, who is to say where the line should or should not be drawn regarding
a particular group’s claim to independence?
Indeed, when the southern states of the United States sought to secede from
the Union in the 19th century, America fought a bloody civil war to prevent
them from doing so.
It should be clear, then, that there is no objective standard in international
relations to determine who is “deserving” of statehood. Though many
proponents of an independent Palestine portray it as an issue of morality, the
fact is they are applying a subjective – as well as selective – morality, at best.
Ask any European statesman or US State Department spokesman for their view
about an independent Kurdistan for the Kurds, and they will suddenly begin to
cite “national interests” or “regional stability” to explain their opposition,
conveniently sidestepping the moral question.
Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen. Israel, like any other nation, has its
own “national interests” to worry about too. And those interests dictate that
establishing a Palestinian state west of the Jordan river would pose an
existential threat to the people of Israel.
The Palestinians have demonstrated over the past 20 months what their true
intentions are, namely to wipe Israel off the map. To expect Israelis to overlook
this reality in the name of some contrived and contorted sense of morality is to
expect too much.
Because, frankly speaking, there is nothing more moral than a state acting to
protect the lives of its citizens. And by refusing to establish a Palestinian state,
that is precisely what Israel aims to do.