Monday, September 10, 2007


Government leaders and diplomats would be advised to adopt a more aggressive diplomatic stance based on Israel’s longstanding international legal and historical rights to a sovereign state in its own homeland with a united Jerusalem as its capital.2 Generous Israeli concessions have, if inadvertently, reinforced the charges by some that Israel not only lacks legal rights to the disputed territories of Gaza and the West Bank, but that Israel ’s very legitimacy is inextricably linked to further territorial concessions. Therefore, Israel should now recalibrate the moral force of its rightful claims that today have been all but lost to the Palestinians in the international court of public opinion.

The Failure of the “Concessions-Based Paradigm”
The tepid international response to continuing, Iranian-backed, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket attacks on southern Israel points to an uncomfortable conclusion. Israel’s far-reaching diplomatic concessions to its Arab and Palestinian neighbors — withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the offer of nearly 95 percent of the West Bank at Camp David in 2000, continuous territorial withdrawals during the Oslo process from 1993 to 2000, and the IDF’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 — have failed to generate security for Israelis, diplomatic progress with Palestinian and Arab neighbors, or greater international support for Israel’s diplomatic positions.

Unfortunately, recent experience shows that Israeli diplomatic gestures and territorial generosity have backfired. Since Israel ’s unilateral Gaza withdrawal and particularly following last summer’s war with Hizbullah in Lebanon , Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza have increased exponentially6 despite Sharon ’s statement on the eve of the 2005 pullout that removing the IDF was intended to “reduce terror as much as possible, and grant Israeli citizens the maximum level of security.”7 Similarly, Israel ’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 failed to end hostilities with Iranian proxy Hizbullah. Instead, it fueled war preparations that resulted in Hizbullah firing more than 4,200 rockets that paralyzed Israel ’s northern cities during the Second Lebanon War.8

Oslo ’s Shift Away from Rights-Based Diplomacy
Much of Israel ’s current diplomatic posture was established with the 1993 Oslo accords. The Oslo process represented a diplomatic paradigm shift for Israel away from “rights-based” diplomacy to “concession-driven” diplomacy.36 The White House signing ceremony in September 1993 was illustrative. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deemphasized Israel ’s territorial rights and instead focused on its desire to end its violent conflict with the Palestinians, declaring, “Enough of blood and tears. We have come to try and put an end to the hostilities, so that our children, our children’s children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war, violence and terror.”37 His words were poetic and well-meaning, but they lacked any reference to Israel ’s historical rights and claims.

Reasserting Israel’s Legitimacy and Rights to Sovereignty
Israel has always expressed its readiness for territorial compromise and this principle will continue to play a role in future diplomatic processes. However, in view of the fundamental doubts expressed regarding Israel ’s legitimacy in many international circles, Israeli government leaders and diplomats would be well advised to reiterate to their foreign counterparts the following historical and legal principles of Israel ’s rights-based diplomacy.

Historical Context
The modern State of Israel is not a child of European colonialism. Rather, it is the result of Ottoman decolonialization and one of the first fruits of the international community’s commitment to self-determination in the post-World War I era. The State of Israel also is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish nation and the third Jewish commonwealth to arise in the Land of Israel over the past three thousand years. In fact, the Jewish people is the only nation that has ever established an independent homeland in the Land of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital.

The Modern Legal Context of Israel’s Rights to Sovereignty
It was the sui generis Jewish historical bond with Jerusalem and Israel that led the League of Nations and then the United Nations during the last century to recognize the Jewish people’s legal right to “reconstitute its national home in that country.”48 In other words, the international community formally recognized a preexisting right to Jewish sovereignty in Western-mandated Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea . It was Winston Churchill who noted in 1922 that “the Jews are in Palestine by right, not sufferance.”49 The High Commissioner for Palestine reiterated in his first report to the British government in 1925 the basis of international guarantees for a Jewish state. He noted:

The Balfour Declaration was endorsed at the time by several of the Allied Governments. It was reaffirmed by the conference of the Principal Allied powers at San Remo in 1920. It was subsequently endorsed by unanimous resolutions by both houses of the Congress of the United States; it was embodied in the Mandate for Palestine approved by the League of Nations in 1922; it was declared in a formal statement of policy issued by the Colonial Secretary in the same year, “not to be susceptible of change”; and it has been the guiding principle in their direction of the affairs of Palestine of four successive British Governments. The policy was fixed and internationally guaranteed.50

Nothing prevents Israel from conceding its potential claims to sovereignty within the context of a peace process that brings Israel to agreed-upon secure borders. Preemptive concession of such claims, however, is unnecessary and has proved diplomatically counterproductive.

The adoption of a rights-based paradigm for Israeli diplomacy will not likely trigger an immediate improvement in the UN General Assembly’s voting patterns regarding Israel . It also is unlikely that diplomats from Muslim countries will be persuaded by Israel ’s rightful claims. However, the international community’s position toward Israel is in greater flux in the wake of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007. Israel might now begin to enjoy greater understanding in some European and Asian circles. Therefore, rights-based diplomacy can make a difference for those who might express greater sympathy for Israel ’s position but would first seek a firm basis in international law before offering diplomatic support.


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