As Israel and Palestine continue their peace talks, I find myself thinking about two questions. The first is, “Does Israel have a right to exist?” My answer is “yes.” The second is, “Why does Israel have a right to exist?” Here things get more murky.
There is a tendency among some to delegitimize the State of Israel. According to the Reut Institute of Tel-Aviv, deligitimization “exhibits blatant double standards, singles out Israel, denies its right to exist as the embodiment of the self-determination of the Jewish people, or demonizes the state.”
What do you make of linking Israel’s right to exist to its being “the embodiment of the self-determination of the Jewish people?” If statehood depends on self-determination, should any people hungry for self-determination get a state? Many of us believe the Palestinians have a right to self-determination and a state, but what about the Navaho, the Cherokee, the Basque people, or the Kurds? Should Spain and Iraq consider a two-state solution?
Or is talk of self-determination a distraction from the simple fact that might makes rights? A state has a right to exist commensurate with its ability to secure and defend its chosen borders. In 1948 Israel’s UN backed right to exist would have disappeared within days if not hours had she not been able to resist the invasion of Arab troops. Rights come from the barrel of a gun (or from a barrel of oil as in the case of some states). Even if you imagine that God determines the fate of peoples and states, the only way we know what God desires and which states God favors is to see which people is left standing after the dust of war settles.
Whether we opt for sociology or theology it always comes down to guns. The only reason an independent Canada exists is because the fledgling US lacked the power to conquer it. The only reason the South Western states are a part of the US is because the US did have the power to take them from Mexico. Israel has a right to exist as long as she can defend herself successfully against those who would conquer her. I am not comfortable with this notion, but I don’t see any other way to justify the existence of any state.
So what do you think? Where does a state’s right to exist come from? Is a state’s right to exist the same as a people’s right to exist? How does your answer to these questions impact your thinking about American foreign policy, and Israeli policy toward Palestine, America, and Iran?