In recent weeks, a free Palestine within the pre-1967 borders has garnered the recognition of many South American countries – Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Chile, with Paraguay and Peru expected to follow – and Israeli officials are reacting with a strange mixture of sneering dismissal and outrage.
There is obvious truth to the dismissive claim that there cannot be a Palestinian state de facto for as long as its sovereign territory is occupied by Israel. This is undoubtedly clear even to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has been busy laying the groundwork for government and economic institutions. So why the outrage? Netanyahu and even Lieberman have long resigned themselves to the idea of a two-state eventuality, or so one gathers from their statements. If this is acceptable, why is it outrageous for South American states to establish diplomatic relations with the state-to-be?
“You cannot declare a state unilaterally,” some have leveled at the Palestinian leadership. “You cannot declare a state when the borders are contested,” say others. On the 15th of November 2009, incidentally the 21st anniversary of the PNC’s Declaration of Independence, President Shimon Peres opined during a visit to Brazil that a Palestinian state “cannot be established without a peace agreement.”
Such objections indicate a memory lapse. It has not been 63 years since a certain David Ben Gurion declared the independence of Israel unilaterally, without a peace agreement, and with its borders disputed. A young Shimon Peres, stationed at the Haganah headquarters, was at that time working in direct coordination with Ben Gurion. He must have known, as everyone in the Jewish Yishuv did, that all there was to go on was the international support that Ben Gurion had obtained, culminating in the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 181.
Israel and its supporters should ask themselves why it was that on November 29th 1947, save for the abstaining Argentina and Chile, every one of the aforementioned South American UN members (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay) cast her vote in support of the Partition Plan and an independent Israel. Was it because they believed that the Jews are the Chosen among people, claiming a Holy Land promised to them by God himself?
More likely, they were convinced by another, secular and universalistic Zionist argument: That any dispersed and downtrodden people deserve the right to national self-determination and independence in its historic homeland. It is for this reason precisely that South America now welcomes Palestine into the family of nations.
Legitimacy cuts both ways
My one point of agreement with detractors of Palestinian independence regards their assessment that the issue really concerns the legitimacy of Israel’s own existence. It does, inseparably. Their error rests in the projection that Israel would win legitimacy by fighting to dissuade the world from recognizing Palestine. The complete opposite is true: Legitimacy cuts both ways, and in a way, Israel has already lost that bout by not being the first to legitimize Palestine.
In fact, by protesting against international recognition of Palestine, Israel reneges on the convincing Zionist argument that had won it its own independence. If the oppressed and dispersed Arabs of Palestine may not nationalize and establish statehood in their homeland (and the world is not blind to see that Palestine is the ancestral homeland of Arabs too) then why can the Jews? For consistency’s sake, a Brazil or Argentina retracting its recognition of Palestine would also have to retract its recognition of Israel, by the same token.
A self-interested Israel with any sense would have pre-empted the South Americans by being the first to offer Palestine its unconditional recognition, despite the two nations’ ongoing conflict. Instead of hoggishly demanding acceptance of Israel’s Jewish character as a precondition for peace talks – the Palestinian Authority has already agreed to recognize Israel, with Abbas once saying, correctly, that Israel’s character is no one’s business but its own – Netanyahu would have been wise to invite a Palestinian embassy to West Jerusalem, or at least to Tel-Aviv.
Not only does Israel stand to lose nothing by doing so, but such move would have aided us tremendously. It would have proven to the world that Israel means business, reducing mistrust and suspicion in the Arab world. It would therefore have put the ball in the Palestinians’ court, leaving them with one less excuse not to take the next step toward peace. It would have allowed Israeli negotiators to put on the table the demands that really matter: An end to hostility, cooperation in disarmament of terrorist organizations, and extensive safeguards against future threats to Israel’s security.
Chilean FM Alfredo Moreno has said that Chile supports “the right of the Palestinian people to constitute themselves as an independent state, in peaceful coexistence with the state of Israel.” Brazilian President Lula da Silva wrote in his letter of recognition to President Abbas, that in supporting Palestine, he reiterates “that only dialogue and peaceful coexistence with its neighbors will truly advance the Palestinian cause.” Does Israel really object to this? Does this not sound like support for the elusive two-state solution, which Israel accuses the Palestinians of rejecting?
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