By Moshé Machover, Israeli Occupation Archive – 4 Nov 2011
Why is Israel so furious about UNESCO’s decision (31 October 2011) to admit Palestine as a member state? Why is it adamant in its opposition to Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to get the UN to recognize Palestine as a member state, or even as a non-member state?
After all, whether or not a state called ‘Palestine’ obtains such formal recognition and is admitted to this or that international body, such a state does not actually exist on the ground: it will continue to be more fiction than reality. Nor can we take seriously the US-Israeli claim that international recognition of the fictional Palestine would forestall negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. As Abbas has pointed out, negotiations about the outstanding issues (borders, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and so on) could still go on and – if and when successfully concluded – lead to a peace treaty between Israel and a nascent Palestine. So why is Israel so outraged?
The answer has little to do with the question whether the so-called two-state ‘solution’ provides a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It has everything to do with the self-legitimation of the Zionist state, which involves a deep-seated ideological rejection, shared by all mainstream Zionist parties, of the legitimacy of a sovereign Palestinian Arab state of any size, shape or form. This is by no means new. Let me quote from a Matzpen discussion paper co-authored by Emmanuel Farjoun and myself in August 1976 and published in the journal Matzpen in February 1977, when the first Rabin government was in office.
The decisive majority of the Zionist leadership, both in the government and in the… opposition, is resolutely opposed, as a matter of fundamental principle, to the establishment of any kind of independent Palestinian state.
First, the Zionist legitimation for the existence of the State of Israel as an exclusive Jewish state has always been entirely based not on the right to self-determination of the Jews who live in this country, but on the alleged ‘historical right’ of all Jews around the world over the whole of the ‘Land of Israel.’ From this viewpoint, recognition of the existence in Palestine of another people, the Palestinian Arab people, which has a legitimate claim in it would undermine Zionism’s legitimation and self-justification.
Second, the Zionist leadership indeed takes into account the eventuality that within the framework of a settlement Israel may be obliged to withdraw also from parts of its conquests west of the Jordan River. But from a Zionist viewpoint any withdrawal from any part whatsoever of ‘the historical Land of Israel,’ especially west of the Jordan, is—in principle—temporary and contingent on transient conditions. From this viewpoint, Israel must reserve the ability and right to reconquer these territories, if that becomes politically possible or militarily necessary. But in international politics there is a huge difference between conquering part of another state and conquering the whole of a ‘third state’ [i.e., a Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan]. The world would be much more likely to accept, under certain conditions, an Israeli reconquest of part of Jordan (or of Greater Syria), than the total erasure of a sovereign Palestinian state. The establishment of such a state would therefore impose a severe constraint on Israel’s political and military strategy.
Third, the Zionist leadership is worried that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, however small, may be the starting point of a historical process whereby that state would expand step-by-step at Israel’s expense. The Zionists in fact know from their own experience all about a process of this kind: at first they agreed to the establishment of a small Jewish state within the borders recommended [in 1937] by the Peel Commission, and later within the borders of the [UN] Partition Plan of 1947, but they expanded the borders further and further, step by step.
In this context, we quoted the words of Moshe Dayan, as reported in Ha’aretz on December 12, 1975:
Fundamentally, a Palestinian state is an antithesis of the State of Israel… The basic and naked truth is that there is no fundamental difference between the relation of the Arabs of Nablus to Nablus and that of the Arabs of Jaffa to Jaffa… And if today we set out on this road and say that the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country and have the same rights, then it will not end with the West Bank. The West Bank together with the Gaza Strip do not amount to a state… The establishment of such a Palestinian state would lay a cornerstone to something else… Either the State of Israel — or a Palestinian state.
Thus, for mainstream Zionism any admission that ‘the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country and have the same rights’ would undermine the legitimacy of the Zionist state, and eventually its very existence.
This has remained a cornerstone of Israel’s political strategy. For this reason, no Israeli government has ever signed a legally binding commitment to accepting a Palestinian Arab state. This applies, in particular, to the Oslo Accords of 1993, which the second Rabin government co-signed with the Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat. In this treaty there is no mention of a Palestinian state.
This is no mere oversight. On 5 October 1995, Yitzhak Rabin asked the Knesset to ratify the Oslo Accords. I quote his words from the Knesset official records:
Members of Knesset,
We are striving for a permanent solution to the unending bloody conflict between us and the Palestinians and the Arab states. …
We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.
A month later, Rabin was assassinated: even his acceptance of a ‘Palestinian entity which is less than a state’ was a mortal sin as far as his extreme right-wing opponents are concerned.
It is true that several Israeli leaders subsequently signaled highly qualified acceptance of a Palestinian Arab state. But none of these announcements were legally binding, and they were always hedged with conditions that Israel made sure would never be satisfied.
The first such announcement was made by the Sharon government, in response to The ‘roadmap for peace’ outlined by U.S. President George W Bush in a speech on 24 June 2002, in which he called for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. At first, Ariel Sharon rejected the Bush plan. But following US and international pressure his government implied (on 25 May 2005) conditional acceptance. Sharon, devious as ever, made sure that his conditions could not be accepted by any credible Palestinian leadership. They included waiver of any right of return of refugees to Israel. And, crucially, one of the conditions was that issues pertaining to the final settlement, including the status of the Palestinian Authority, would not be discussed prior to the final settlement talks.
In effect, this means that the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state could not even be discussed prior to the very final agreement. Thus all Israel had to do was to prolong the negotiations endlessly. Indeed, from Israel’s point of view, this is what the so-called peace process is for: it is designed not to arrive at the creation of a Palestinian state, but to prevent it by endless delays.
Now it becomes clear why Israel insists that Abbas’s UN membership bid forestalls negotiations between it and the Palestinians. Indeed, from Israel’s viewpoint this is the case: if a Palestinian state receives formal international recognition and legitimacy, then what is the point of negotiations whose very purpose is to prevent that very thing?
Moshé Machover is an Israeli socialist anti-Zionist activist and co-founder of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen). He is currently living in London, England. He is emeritus professor of philosophy, King’s College, London University. His most recent book is Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution.
All IOA commentaries by Moshé Machover
 I discussed this question in my article Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Socialist Viewpoint, Israeli Occupation Archive, 19 February 2009; an edited version of which appeared under a different title in Weekly Worker 757, 19 February 2009.