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The Peace Paradigm

At the core of much of the discussions scheduled to take place in Annapolis later this month will be ‘rights’: human rights, refugee rights, the right to access holy sites, the right to live in peace and security. But when it comes to negotiating peace in Palestine/Israel there is a significant problem with the framework embraced by the majority of statesmen and analysts.

From the United Nations to the UK government, from the EU to Washington, everyone is agreed that some rights are not just sacrosanct in theory, but also in practice. While lip service is paid to Palestinian ‘rights’ of self-determination, three core Israeli rights are always assumed.

The first is Israel’s right to security. Israel’s “security concerns” are understood to be the rationale behind the network of checkpoints in the West Bank and the Separation Wall and the ‘permit’ system endured by occupied Palestinians. A sympathetic nod to Israeli ‘security needs’ is even sometimes afforded to the settlements, illegal under international law.

According to the UK Foreign Office, locking up 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and restricting access to vital supplies is ‘concerning’, but of course we “understand Israel’s security dilemma”. This commitment to empathizing with Israel’s ‘security worries’ is based on one of the touchstone myths of Zionist propaganda, that Israel is a vulnerable outpost outnumbered and surrounded by fanatical Muslims bent on pushing the Jews into the sea.

The second ‘right’ is that of self-defense, and specifically, Israel’s right to respond militarily to perceived or actual threats. In March 2002, a day after Israel had killed 17 Palestinians across the Occupied Territories, the US State Department affirmed their respect for Israel’s “right to self-defense”. As UN Secretary-General during the Second Intifada, Kofi Annan also declared his belief in “Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence”.

The UK Foreign Office’s Middle East ‘Peace Process’ web page has a number of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. There are only three articulated rights, all belonging to Israel: the right to “self defence”, the “right to defend itself”, and the “right to protect its citizens”. In seven years of assassinations, invasions, curfews and home demolitions, international statesmen have wagged their fingers at Israeli ‘escalations’, yet viewed every military operation as a retaliation or response (even of the ‘pre-emptive’ variety).

Finally, there is the ‘right to exist’. Ever since Hamas’ electoral success in 2005, this ‘right’ has been endlessly publicly affirmed and upheld by world leaders, despite the fact that currently, Israel very much does exist, and Palestine definitely does not.

What if these three rights – to security, self-defense and geo-political existence – were applied to Palestine? After their total absence had been noted, talk would move on to how to secure their implementation. Would armed Palestinian resistance targeting the Israeli military be justified? What would that mean for a ‘peace process’ that invites occupier and occupied to polite discussions over coffee?

A new peace paradigm is needed that does not see the conflict through the lens of the coloniser. Security, self-defense and self-determination are Palestinian rights denied daily by Israel. A peace process worth the name would include recognition of Palestine’s ‘right to exist’ and concrete steps on how to enforce this.

Published in Palestine Chronicle.

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