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April 18, 2002 -- Now that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mission to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse has failed, the only peace plan that remains on the table is Saudi Prince Abdullah’s proposal delivered at the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut on March 27.
Notwithstanding the failure of the United States to draft a peace proposal of its own and the subsequent Arab-European rebuke of America’s rudderless foreign policy, the biggest obstacle to Prince Abdullah’s proposal is its underlying philosophy. Essentially, in return for a complete withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967 borders, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, all 22 members of the Arab League would normalize trade, guarantee security, and establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. In essence, Arab countries would recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”
As outrageous and arrogant as such a concept is, since its creation in 1948, Israel has had to live with the Arab idea that its very existence is legitimized only when it is tethered to some kind of recognition and acceptance by its Middle Eastern neighbors. Indeed, the state of Israel—and consequently, the Jews who inhabit it—routinely have had their “right to exist” derided, questioned, and rejected in countless speeches and declarations, not to mention formally in the founding charters of organizations like the PLO and others. Is it any wonder that this notion has insinuated its ugly head once again—amid the bloodiest and most protracted Mideast violence in a generation?
Philosophically, a man’s right to his own existence (life) is the fundamental right from which all other rights are derived. Inherent in this right is man’s freedom to engage in all the necessary actions required to support, sustain, and fulfill his life. This is the true meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and it is the only conception of life that makes values possible, meaningful, and worthwhile.
Israel’s existence is not something to be granted or withheld at some leader’s or some state’s whim, nor can it be deprived for the benefit of Palestinians or any group sympathetic to the Palestinians. Israel and the Jewish people exist independent of Arab sanction, and like any other free country and people within the international community, their right to exist is inviolable. Israel has the right to act in accordance with its own judgment, to support itself by its own efforts, to choose what is beneficial for its furtherance, and to work to achieve these values—so long as these same rights are respected in others. These are rights and principles that Muslims and Jews alike can claim as their birthright—without guilt, without apology, without gratitude, without permission.
So, how do you challenge a belief that one’s “right to exist” is conditional—that somehow it requires another’s sanction? How do you change a conviction held so strongly that its adherents will line up to die and commit acts of terrorism to effect it? What to do when principles collide?
The first and most important step is to understand that convictions and beliefs—no matter how cherished—are not “rights.” Rights are moral principles that guide man’s actions and his relationships with others in society. Rights can only be exercised in freedom and must be independent. Israel cannot exist solely because the Arab world permits it to exist. Requiring permission for existence means negating existence because permission can be withheld or revoked at any time. A Palestinian’s right cannot be secured by violating a Jew’s right, or vice-versa.
The irrational idea that a man’s “right to exist” is dependent on another’s permission has no place in this world.