Many people unfortunately hold false and mistaken assumptions about Israel due to lack of interest or ignorance. This article aims to correct some of the main misunderstandings.
Israel is inundated with one-sided international resolutions, declarations, “peace plans,” and advice from governments, international organizations, leaders, pundits, and elements within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.
Most of the above rest on widely-held, false and mistaken assumptions regarding Israel, its leaders, government, policies, and positions held by the vast majority of the Israeli public.
These false and mistaken assumptions need to be addressed:
1. “Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) will provide Israel with security and international acceptance.” Wrong.
- Prior to Israel’s entry into the territories in the 1967 war, the Arab states made every effort to attack and weaken Israel militarily and diplomatically.
- The Arab and Iranian attempts today to challenge Jewish history in the Biblical land of Israel and in Jerusalem and the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish state still resonate in the international community, most recently in UNESCO.
- The Palestinians are committed to eventually establishing their state over all of mandatory Palestine and they indoctrinate their children this way.
- The most recent, absurd initiative by the Palestinian leadership to prosecute Britain for issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration proves the deeply-rooted Palestinian rejection of the existence of Israel.
- From Israel’s establishment in 1948 and up to present day, Israel has been, and continues to be the only UN member state denied its UN Charter-guaranteed right of “sovereign equality.”
- Clearly, withdrawal from the territories now under these conditions would threaten Israel’s security.
2. “Israel’s ‘occupation of the territories’ is illegal and a violation of international law.” Wrong.
- Israel entered the territories in 1967 after being attacked by all its neighbors, acting in self-defense against an offensive and aggressive war.
- Occupation of territory during an armed conflict is an accepted and recognized legal state-of-affairs in international law and practice.
- Israel has committed itself to abide by the international humanitarian and legal norms for the administration of such territories. Israel’s administration of the territories is under strict judicial supervision by Israel’s Supreme Court.
- The territory was never under Palestinian rule or sovereignty, and when it was under Jordanian control there was no intention by Jordan to turn it into a Palestinian state.
- The oft-used term in UN resolutions “occupied Palestinian territories” has no legal basis or validity whatsoever. It is not supported by any legal, historical or other binding document, and its use prejudges the outcome of a still pending negotiation.
- It is an accepted fact that the issue of the future of the territories is in dispute. Israel entertains valid, widely acknowledged and long-held historic and legal claims regarding the territories.
- Signed agreements between the Palestinian leadership and Israel have established an agreed framework for settling the territorial dispute through negotiation of their permanent status.
- Pending agreement between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the permanent status of the territory, no external, third-party political determination or resolution can establish that that the territories belong to the Palestinians.
3. “The Palestinian leadership is united and popularly supported.” Wrong.
- The Palestinian leadership is far from united. There is a total, irreconcilable disconnect between the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria, and the Hamas administration in Gaza. The leadership is seen as incorrigibly corrupt. President Mahmoud Abbas is in the 11th year of his four-year term. The Authority lacks internal credibility, accountability, and popular support.
- This situation undermines any confidence in a viable and united governance and representation of the Palestinians. It neutralizes any capacity to enter into and to implement any international commitment or obligation.
4. “The Palestinian leadership is moderate, willing to negotiate and to live in peace with Israel.” Wrong.
- The Palestinian leadership, is far from moderate, by any standard. Even without Hamas incitement, it engages in an officially-sanctioned policy of “de-normalization” vis-à-vis The leadership often praises, memorializes, and encourages Palestinian terrorists.
- The Palestinian leadership refuses to resume negotiations, and refuses to meet or to enter into any dialogue with Israel’s leaders. It blocks contacts between Palestinians and Israelis at the diplomatic, professional, and people-to-people levels. This policy runs counter to Palestinian commitments in the Oslo Accords to encourage development cooperation and “people-to-people dialogues” at all levels.
- The Palestinian leadership initiates and openly supports boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) aimed at the delegitimization of Israel in the international community on international and regional organizations, international tribunals, and the UN and its specialized agencies.
- While Israel has expressed its willingness for the principle of “two states for two peoples,” the Palestinian leadership consistently refuses to accept the concept of Israel as the democratic nation state of the Jewish People.
5. “Israel’s settlements are illegal and violate international law.” Wrong.
- These allegations are based on a misreading of the relevant international laws and the reciprocal commitments between Israel and the PLO.
- The prohibition on the transfer of population into territory occupied during war, set out in the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, was specifically drafted in order to prevent a recurrence of the mass forcible population transfers that occurred during the Second World War. In the case of Israel’s settlement policy, there are no forced expulsions or coerced settling.
- This has no bearing on, or relevance to Israel’s settlement policy, which enables the legitimate utilization of non-privately-owned land pending the permanent settlement of the dispute. Use of non-privately-owned public land for settlement or for agriculture is fully consistent with accepted international norms as long as the status of the land is not changed pending its final negotiated outcome.
- As such, Israel’s settlements cannot be seen to be a violation of international law. Any determination of such is based on a selective, politically biased viewpoint taken outside the accepted international practice.
- Notwithstanding the divergence of views on the legality of Israel’s settlements, according to the Oslo Accords, this issue is an open negotiating issue between the Palestinians and Israel.
- Pending attainment of a negotiated settlement, the Oslo Accords place no freeze or restriction on either Israel or the Palestinians to engage in planning, zoning, and construction in the respective areas under its control. To the contrary, planning, zoning and construction are specifically permitted.
- Accordingly, arbitrary and unilateral predetermination as to the legitimacy of settlements, and any call for their removal prior to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians are inconsistent with the agreements and constitute prejudgment of a negotiating issue.
- The claim that the settlements are the source of the conflict holds no logic. The Arab-Israel conflict existed long before the establishment of any settlement, with efforts by the Arab states in 1948 to prevent the establishment of the state of Israel and their ongoing efforts since then to bring about its demise.
6. “Jerusalem belongs to the Arabs. The Jews have no rights or claims to it.” Wrong.
- The Palestinian leadership manipulates history and denies Jewish history and heritage in Jewish holy sites in its presentations to international organizations such as UNESCO. They cannot alter the historic fact that Jerusalem has, from time immemorial, been the epicenter of the Jewish religion and heritage. It also plays a major role in the history of Christianity. This is acknowledged in the Quran, the Old and New Testaments and in the writings of historians.
- Attempts by the Palestinian leadership to generate incitement and violence through false accusations regarding the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem have no basis and will not alter the fact that the issue of Jerusalem is an agreed negotiating issue between Israel and the Palestinians pursuant to the Oslo Accords.
- Any assumption or expectation that the Israeli public may be pressured into supporting demands for a unilateral withdrawal from Arab areas of east Jerusalem outside of a negotiated and agreed-upon framework is misplaced and has no basis in fact.
7. “The Israeli leadership and government are inflexible, extreme and oppose peace.” Wrong.
- The intense hostility towards Israel’s democratically-elected government is misplaced and insulting to the Israeli public.
- The tendency, especially in Europe and in international organizations, to accept outrageous Palestinian allegations against Israel, often old anti-Semitic canards, is nothing more than submission to cynical manipulation. Such allegations deliberately abuse the bona fides and sense of political correctness prevalent among Western countries and societies.
- This comes at the expense of genuine objective, historic, legal and factual analysis.
- Well-meaning and sincere European and American politicians, community-leaders and organizations together with international and regional organizations appear to feel that they are better-able and equipped, more-so than Israel’s elected leaders and the Israeli public, to know what is in the better interests of Israel.
- The Israeli public, whose voters and their elected officials face the threats of hostility and terror on a daily basis, have deep political awareness and are fully capable of determining the fate of Israel.
- The assumption that international pressure will bring about the downfall of Israel’s democratically-elected government belies the strength of Israel’s democracy and undermines the West’s democratic principles.
8. “The present status quo between Israel and the Palestinians is unsustainable.” Wrong.
- The present situation of political stalemate between the Palestinians and Israel is not the result of Israeli defiance, as claimed by some Western leaders, governments, and commentators.
- Israel has repeatedly expressed its willingness to resume the negotiation process immediately. Israel is committed in the Oslo Accords and has made it very clear that it has no intention of carrying out any unilateral action aimed at changing the status of the territories.
- The “present status quo” is determined by the fact that the Palestinian leadership consistently refuses to return to a negotiating table. It prefers to indulge the international community with its victimhood and to generate negative initiatives aimed at denying Israel’s character as the Jewish State, and delegitimizing Israel.
- Palestinian leadership prefers to conduct diplomatic warfare through boycotts against Israel and legal proceedings against Israel’s leaders in international and national courts.
- The one-sided imposition of politically oriented solutions is not an acceptable mode of changing the status quo.
- In the absence of a viable diplomatic process today, the current status quo is sustainable.
9. “Islamophobia is parallel to anti-Semitism.” Wrong.
- The tendency in the international community to link anti-Semitism with Islamophobia as two equal phenomena of racism is totally wrong. This tendency regrettably emanates from exaggerated political correctness on the part of many Western countries and communities.
- Anti-Semitism has been a tragic phenomenon conducted solely against Jews for thousands of years, causing massacres, pogroms, expulsions, public torture and executions, lynching, forced conversion, destruction of synagogues, enslavement, confiscation of belongings, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust.
- Anti-Semitic themes are a staple of Palestinian and Arab media, school curricula, cartoons, and sermons.
- The aim of anti-Semitism has been to exterminate and bring about the total genocide of the Jewish People as a race.
- Anti-Semitism cannot be compared or linked to Islamophobia, which emanates from the fear of Islam as a result of fanatical Islamic movements and the terror generated by them. It bears no relation whatsoever to any philosophy advocating genocide of Muslims.
- In this context, de-legitimization of Israel is seen by most Western states, as a new version of anti-Semitism.
10. “Israel is a racist state that violates human rights and practices apartheid.” Wrong
- This claim is repeated by Palestinian leaders and left-wing propagandists throughout the world. It was initially advocated by Yasser Arafat and adopted by NGO groups at discredited 2001 UN Conference on Racism at Durban.
- It is indicative of an evident lack of understanding of the racist nature of the phenomenon of “apartheid” and an even further and deeper misunderstanding of the character of Israel as an open, pluralistic and democratic society.
- The comparison of Israel to South Africa under white supremacist rule has been utterly rejected by those with intimate understanding of the old Apartheid system, especially South Africans. The aim of such propaganda, in addition to delegitimizing the very basis of existence of the State of Israel, is to cynically manipulate the international community and to encourage imposition of an international sanctions regime against Israel modeled on the actions against the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
- Israel is a multi-racial and multi-colored society, and the Israeli Arab population actively participates in the political process. Israeli Arabs enjoy complete equality and freedom of expression. They elect their own Knesset members and Arab judges serve in the Supreme Court. Israeli Arabs serve as heads of hospital departments, university professors, diplomats, and senior police and army officers.
- Each religious community has its own religious court system, applying Sharia, Canon, and Jewish law respectively.
- Unlike those Arab and other states in which one religion is declared the state religion, or Western countries where Christianity is the predominant religion, or Moslem countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where certain areas, towns, and roads are restricted to “Moslems only,” and where women are treated as second-class citizens and gay people as criminals, Israeli law regards Judaism, Islam, and Christianity as official religions and constitutionally ensures complete freedom and equality to all.
- Incitement to or practice of racism in Israel is a criminal offence, as is any discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or gender. Israeli schools, universities, and hospitals make no distinction between Jews and Arabs.
Whether in day-to-day political and social discourse, or whether in the international and local media, the above canards appear repeatedly and consistently.
Communities, especially Jewish communities throughout the world, Christian congregations, students and academic staff, parliamentarians, publicists, as well as all well-meaning people in general, are being cynically targeted and manipulated in order to generate artificial narratives through repetition of lies and through distortion and perversion of truth.
It is to be hoped that this manipulation will be seen in its true light and will be rejected.
By: Ambassador Alan Baker/The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.