Israel’s Weakness

How could Israel have been so troubled by conflict for sixty years? Its mature institutions form a solid internal hierarchy and with the fourth strongest military in the world its external autonomy is guaranteed. These are the factors on which stability of states in the international system is based. Ever since Israel was proclaimed into existence in 1948 it has been strong. At the time it didn’t have to depend on foreign peace keepers to defend it’s newly acquired sovereignty. On the contrary, it managed to make additional territorial conquests. More conquests were made in 1956, 1967, and in 1982. Israel’s position of hegemony has continued to this very day. It has the regional monopoly on nuclear bombs and is able to threaten and bomb both near and faraway states with impunity. Such evident strength is supposed to guarantee a state’s safety. So how come we still hear about threats to Israel’s very existence on a nearly daily basis?

According to the Western consensus a resolution of the threats to Israel consists of two separate parts. First, the neighboring states should make peace with Israel. Second, a new state next to Israel should be created for Palestinians and that state should also make peace with Israel.

This should make us think. If the solution for the conflict resides in statehood, couldn’t this concept help us to identify the conflict’s causes? But how to look at statehood?

The standard definition of a state under international law is summed up in article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States of 1933: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Let’s consider the degree to which Israel matches these conditions for statehood one by one.

First, Israel doesn’t accept the notion of population as a foundation of the state. It defines itself not by the people inhabiting the area but as the state of all Jews, whether they live in Tel Aviv, Hebron, Tehran, Frankfurt or New York. Thus it excludes from the state the many non-Jews who have been living for many generations in places like Jaffa, Jerusalem or Nazareth. Furthermore, a vast number of people that is by international definition considered part of the population has been driven from the area because they are not Jews. This is not merely an event of a bygone era as even today politicians in the highest government positions are clamoring for the removal of the remaining non-Jewish part of the population from Israel.

Thus Israel not only does not have a permanent population, but it rejects the very idea of it.

Second, Israel doesn’t define its own borders. Its history is characterized by a sequence of territorial conquests: the war of 1948; the war on Egypt of 1956; the war on Egypt, Jordan and Syria of 1967; and the conquest of much of Lebanon in 1982. Currently, Israel occupies a small part of Lebanon; occupies and ethnically cleansed part of Syria; and rules all of Palestine. Israel designates much land in the West-Bank territory as “state-lands” of which it can dispose as it wishes while at the same time not considering the people living in this territory to be legally or democratically integrated in the state. Furthermore, East-Jerusalem, a small area in southern Lebanon, and the conquered territory of Syria are contrary to international law considered to be part of the state. So where exactly are Israel’s borders? Not only did Israel never define them, its different approaches to different areas make clear that Israel doesn’t subscribe to the very idea of a border.

Third, given the elusive demarcation of population and territory it is hard to see what a government of Israel could be a government of. Is is the government of all areas which its armies control? Is it the government of those allowed to vote for the Knesset? Of the Jews in the West-Bank but not of their non-Jewish neighbors a few hundred meters down the hill? Is it the government of the millions of non-Jews living in the territories it conquered forty years ago and who are living under laws it has set and its monopoly of violence but who do not have voting rights? Is it the government of those who applied for Israeli citizenship among the few Syrians that escaped ethnic cleansing in the annexed part of Syria or of the non-Jews in annexed East-Jerusalem? And if Israel is the state of the Jews in New Jersey, Amsterdam and Paris does it follow that Israel’s government is their government?

These are legitimate and important questions. Both affirmative and negative answers to any of these questions are problematic. Thus they demonstrate how the indefinite character of Israel’s borders and population carries over to the nature of its government.

However, to investigate the conditions on statehood in isolation we should not mix matters. Israel has a solid internal hierarchy which has a monopoly on violence in the area. That minimalist definition suffices to conclude that, yes, Israel has a government.

Fourth, does Israel have the capacity to enter into relations with other states? Clearly, this question can be answered in the affirmative. Israel is a member of the United Nations. It has embassies all over the world and other states have embassies in Israel. It has treaties and agreements with many states. Western states relate to Israel enthusiastically.

On the other hand, relations with neighboring states are strained. In 1948 these states fought the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Since then some have reluctantly entered peace treaties with Israel and others haven’t. Syria and Lebanon are each partly occupied by Israel. One might take issue with the assignment of blame for this situation, but the fact is indubitable that Israel has trouble relating to neighboring states.

But even more telling than uneasy bi-lateral relations is Israel’s disregard of the norms regulating the relations between states. Basically, it claims that international norms with regard to annexation of conquered territories, transferring populations to or from occupied territories, the inadmissibility of collective punishment, and the prohibition on bombing other countries don’t apply to it. Israel’s actions indicate its unwillingness to relate to other states according to internationally acceptable norms.

Israel’s excellent relations with powerful Western states and its strong government explain its strength. But as is demonstrated above, Israel doesn’t live up to the conditions on statehood. There are two ways to approach this shortcoming.

The first is for Israel to define its borders, accept its population according to international standards and to adhere to the norms regulating the relationships between states. This approach dominates Western discussions and policies. It still allows for heated differences of opinion, e.g. between those that want Israel to finally accept the borders of the 1949 Armistice line and deal justly with the Palestinian refugees, and those that consider the current situation a temporary necessity as certain conditions dependent on outsiders have to be fulfilled before Israel can be finalized as a state. In this view the failure of Israel to live up to the conditions of statehood indicates that either reality or Israel is wrong.

The alternative approach is to change the terms of description to better match reality. If Israel doesn’t fulfill the conditions of statehood, then one should not speak of it or treat it as if it were a state. From this viewpoint the idea of Israel as a state is weak.

That may seem farfetched at first, but it is a viewpoint that is rapidly gaining adoption. Three examples of current approaches to the conflict illustrate the diminishing role of the idea of the Israeli state.

The violence surrounding the creation of the state of Israel has long been described from the perspective of the Israeli state in relation to neighboring states. In The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine historian Ilan Pappé re-frames these events. As he wrote in the book’s introduction: “I want to make the case for the paradigm of ethnic cleansing and use it to replace the paradigm of war as the basis for the scholarly research of, and the public debate about, 1948.” And with the “paradigm of war” the framing in terms of the state and relations between states is relegated to the background.

Not looking at past events but at future possibilities are the many works proposing a “one-state solution” for the conflict. Details may differ but the basic assumption behind this theorizing is that Israeli statehood is not a good basis for the future. Instead a re-united Palestinian state is envisioned in which Jews and non-Jews have equal rights. This is less utopian than it may sound at first. Many have now taken the position that a re-union has already taken place since Israel’s occupation of the entire land of Palestine four decades ago. This approach is framed in terms of the rights of the individual, rather than in those of the state.

But possibly most destructive for the idea of Israel as a state are the actions of its “friends”. The US and the EU governments refuse to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international laws. The result of this attitude is that it effectively places Israel outside the system of norms restricting relations between states. The ground is that the “friends” insist on Israel being a Jewish state. We see this in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in the UN partition plan of 1947, in disregarding territorial conquest and the removal of a large part of the population in 1948, the colonization of the West-Bank after 1967 and the blockade of Gaza which will continue until its government recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Critics have pointed out that the latter notion has no definition in international law. My point is rather that this demand demonstrates that the “friends” frame Israel as a Jewish movement with regional aspirations and not as a state with a given permanent population and well-defined borders.

What we have seen above is that the very idea of the state of Israel is weak. Its governing organization and the nature of its relations explain why Israel is capable of dominating the region, but its rejection of standard notions of population, borders and relations with other states explains why it is perpetually in conflict. Israel’s existence is not threatened by external violence but by its statehood being unfulfilled. After vainly attempting to create a state for sixty years the time has come to draw the conclusion that Israel has failed.

Case Roole is a philosopher and lives in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He is currently writing a book on the tension between "Western values" and Western policies with regard to Israel/Palestine. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Case, or visit Case's website.

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. silviana said on February 1st, 2009 at 3:35am #

    the philosophy in this case is too weak to be touch by the case,philosopher with strong arabesque feelings & illogical arguments about peoples hi know nothing in any case,in any way;this case is very weak & is failed in his tale about himself in fact.

  2. albert said on February 1st, 2009 at 4:38am #

    not bad for a failed state


    Israel, the 100th smallest country with less than 1/1000th of the world’s population, was one of the very first nations to offer substantial aid and to send medical rescue missions to Islamic people in the stricken tsunami areas. Israel mobilized 150 doctors and relief teams as well as an 82-ton planeload of supplies for Sri Lanka. Israel also sent aid to India and Thailand.
    The scientific technology employed by NASA to beam video images from its Mars land-rover back to Earth was developed by two Israelis.
    An Israeli company designed a special parachute that will allow people to jump from high-rise buildings in case of emergency. An Israeli group of scientists from the Israel Institute of Technology developed methods to improve the efficiency of solar-hydrogen, non-polluting powered cars.
    “60 Minutes” focused on Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where medical staff — both Jewish and Arab — work together to save Jewish and Arab lives.
    Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer.
    An Israeli company developed a computerized system for ensuring proper administration of medications, thus removing human error from medical treatment. Every year in U.S. hospitals, 7,000 patients die from treatment mistakes.
    Researchers in Israel developed a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with heart disease. The new device is synchronized with a camera that helps doctors diagnose a heart’s mechanical operations through a sophisticated system of sensors.
    Archaeologists in Israel and from all over the world have discovered and recovered amazing artifacts long neglected or desecrated by others who occupied this area.
    Israelis have developed very advanced hydrology technology that allows crops to grow in the most arid conditions. Israel has shared this technology with other peoples, including the Hopi Indians.
    The X-Hawk rotorless helicopter, the first helicopter to have the capability to move in tight spaces, is now in development in Israel.
    The cell phone was developed in Israel by Israelis working in the Israeli branch of Motorola, which has its largest development center in Israel.
    Most of the Windows NT and XP operating systems were developed by Microsoft-Israel. The Pentium MMX chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel.
    Voice mail technology was also developed in Israel. The technology for the AOL Instant Messenger was developed in 1996 by four young Israelis.
    Israel has the highest average living standards in the Middle East. The per capita income in 2000 was over $17,500, exceeding that of the UK.
    Twenty-four per cent of Israel’s workforce holds university degrees, ranking third in the industrialized world, after the United States and Holland and 12 per cent hold advanced degrees.
    In 1984 and 1991, Israel airlifted a total of 22,000 Ethiopian Jews (Operation Solomon) at risk in Ethiopia, to safety in Israel.
    The Middle East has been growing date palms for centuries. The average tree is about 18 -20 feet tall and yields about 38 pounds of dates a year. Israeli trees are now yielding about 400 pounds a year and are short enough to be harvested from the ground or a short ladder.
    When the U. S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed in 1998, Israeli rescue teams were on the scene within a day — and saved three victims from the rubble.

  3. bozh said on February 1st, 2009 at 9:45am #

    please let us alight from supremacist wagon. supremacism (me better; me have better tools) is one of the evilest banes that befell human race.

    and having better tools does not guarantee eternal supremacy.
    egypt, assyria, greece, babylon, sumer, persia, phoenicia, akaad, hittite empire prove it.

    some of these supremacist land have been almost as brutal as the ‘jews’.
    and the world knew that and destroyed them all. thnx

  4. albert said on February 1st, 2009 at 11:08am #

    just to remind you bozh
    the jews have seen off egypt,assyria,greece,persia,the 3rd reich,the soviet empire
    the jews will see off the islamo-fascists as well
    they are not supremicists but they are god’s chosen people
    don’t forget

  5. bozh said on February 1st, 2009 at 2:42pm #

    did you not know or did you forget two very important facts: that israelites as an ethnos or a nation have in toto vanished and judeans have been dispersed, slain, or fled for their dear lives mostly to arab lands.
    only hated samaritans remained and are still in palestine. they were hated by judeans because samaritans broke away from judaism to form own sect.
    it is not known whether samaritans were of hebraic origin; perhaps so; or they may have been hateds hamites; i.e., canaanites.
    it is not known whether judeans of j’lem were jews or not; posssibly, possibly not.
    be it as it may, hebraic people have suffered two shoahs.

    ahskenazic voelken are not shemitic; they are slavs, asians, germanic mostly; only mizrahic and sephardic peoples are shemitic mostly and jewish partially.

    it does seem that the ashkenazim are more talented volk than any i know of. the reason may be that they are well mixed up ( pardon the pun) and have inbred a lot.
    but emotioanlly, they haven’t grown up a mm. they are just as ferocious as nazis, genghis, romans, russians, amers, et al.

    on the more important level- on the level of being human- ashkenazic volken are very bad. and it is, in infinity of time, humanities which eventuallyprevail, because life is almost entirely lived on that level.
    so i’ll retain my humanity and shun weaponry and wealth and you take your supremacy. thnx

  6. Hue Longer said on February 1st, 2009 at 3:35pm #

    “they are not supremicists [sic] but they are god’s chosen people”.

    As ridiculous as this statement is, the sentiment is shared by every racist. No one ever says they’re a racist…Ask the KKK if they consider themselves racists (Not picking out the KKK as exceptional in their hatred–it’s just that it’s a very easy example to use when someone says they aren’t a racist)

  7. mary said on February 1st, 2009 at 4:11pm #

    Hue Perhaps that is why these supremacists have a Supreme Court, the one that made a judgment to ban the three Israeli Arab political parties from participating in this month’s elections. Let us not forget that Israhell is the much touted ‘only democracy in the Middle East’.

  8. albert said on February 1st, 2009 at 4:57pm #

    mary,you are wrong
    the 3 arab parties are standing in the general election next week.
    the SUPREME court heard their case and upheld their appeal,but please don’t let your ignorance of reality get in the way of your prejudice
    however you are right in that israel IS the only democracy in the middle east

  9. albert said on February 1st, 2009 at 5:01pm #

    bozh,what’s all this rubbish about jews not being jews or not being real jews
    the jew haters like hitler,ahmedinejad,nasrallah,galloway,pilger,hamas don’t care what sort of jew they hate
    they hate ALL jews,sephardi,ashkenazi,white,black,brown,green
    a jew is a jew is a jew is good enough for them and is good enough for most jews

  10. bozh said on February 1st, 2009 at 5:45pm #

    arab countries have not slaughtered mizrahic nor sephardic jews. in fact, many jews in ’48-52 left arab lands to settle in expalestine. and iran there is no recorded oppression of iranian jews. i understand there are now some 30,000 jews living in iran.
    the problem with you and about 90% + people like you is that you have abandoned your humanity and accepted teachings by mad priests.
    so, much of what yous do is simply araging. thnx

  11. mary said on February 1st, 2009 at 11:46pm #

    I missed the reversal of the ban. Must have still been too shocked by the shoah in Gaza to notice.

    ‘Despite the ban being overturned, analysts said the parliamentary committee’s decision might further reduce Israeli Arabs’ faith in political representation. Arabs account for less than a tenth of Israel’s parliament, a significantly lower proportion than their 20 per cent share of Israel’s population.

    Calls have already grown within the Arab community – which has long claimed of facing discrimination in such areas as employment, education and housing – to ban the upcoming elections amid dissatisfaction with the fragmentation of Arab parties and the sense by many that their interests are not being advanced in parliament.’
    From The National 23.1.2009

    What about votes for the 11,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, many detained without charge and tortured? 400 children are included in that figure – See Defence for Children International website

  12. albert said on February 2nd, 2009 at 5:07am #

    for mary

    a few other items you may have missed about your scumbag friends in hamas

    Hamas set up rocket launchers and fired rockets into Israel from within school compounds since the operatives knew that the Israel Air Force would not bomb the schools.

    Palestinians who opposed Hamas’s use of their land and homes as launch pads were shot in the legs, Atar added.

    a large bunker was built under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and was used as a hideout for a number of senior Hamas operatives during the recent Israeli offensive.

    Since June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza, the terror group also took control of all humanitarian aid sent into the Strip and refused to distribute it to Palestinians affiliated with Fatah.

  13. albert said on February 2nd, 2009 at 5:12am #

    for bozh not really peaceful even before the state of israel

    There was a massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828.[29] In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, a mob burst into the Jewish Quarter, burned the synagogue, and destroyed the Torah scrolls. It was only by forcible conversion that a massacre was averted There was another massacre in Barfurush in 1867] In 1839, the Allahdad incident, the Jews of Mashhad, Iran, now known as the Mashhadi Jews, were coerced into converting to Islam.[]

    In 1840, the Jews of Damascus were falsely accused of having murdered a Christian monk and his Muslim servant and of having used their blood to bake Passover bread.[35] A Jewish barber was tortured until he “confessed”; two other Jews who were arrested died under torture, while a third converted to Islam to save his life. Throughout the 1860s, the Jews of Libya were subjected to what Gilbert calls punitive taxation. In 1864, around 500 Jews were killed in Marrakech and Fez in Morocco. In 1869, 18 Jews were killed in Tunis, and an Arab mob looted Jewish homes and stores, and burned synagogues, on Jerba Island. In 1875, 20 Jews were killed by a mob in Demnat, Morocco; elsewhere in Morocco, Jews were attacked and killed in the streets in broad daylight. In 1897, synagogues were ransacked and Jews were murdered in Tripolitania.[
    Anti-Jewish riots involving the loss of life took place in Iraq in 1941, in Libya in 1945, in Yemen in 1947 and in Egypt, Morocco and Iraq in 1944

  14. bozh said on February 2nd, 2009 at 5:56am #

    broadly, cults cannot tolerate cults; even christians have been killing christians ever after protestant sect or cult appeared.

    all cults are separatistic and quite perilous; judaism appears one of the worst. it had killed lotsof people: first hated hamites (canaanites); later and now shemites.

  15. Brian Koontz said on February 2nd, 2009 at 8:54pm #

    Israel is an existential reality – representing the status and future history of Zionist Jews and holding some place in the heart of non-Zionist Jews.

    When Zionists *feel* threatened (wherever they are), Israel is threatened. The Israeli state requires constant domination and enslavement of it’s surroundings in a way that no other state in history has.

    Zionists recognize this insecurity as strength – this insecurity has helped *produce* the fourth largest military in the world. Like any reward-based system, their insecurity has been rewarded and will thus continue. Zionists are the only people in the world who live a life of fear not by external force but by *internal* force. Insecurity is strength, and fear is power. Certain animals are fiercest when backed into a corner. By this logic the Zionists back *themselves* into a corner, in order to be perpetually fierce and at their most dominative.

    Regardless of the reality in the world, Israel will always be threatened – Zionists will always be threatened – Jews will always be threatened. Until such time as all of the hopes, dreams, and dominative aspirations of Zionism play themselves out. Such “playing out” will feature countless (additional) corpses and vast suffering.

    No lack of anti-semitism will help. By Zionist logic, the seeming lack of anti-semitism is only a cover for the insidious and deeply seated anti-semitism that is all around them, waiting for the right moment to strike. They must strike first – strike not just anti-semites but any of these “insidious and deeply seated” anti-semites, regardless of the lack of evidence of actual anti-semitism.

    Typical Zionist: “I am Israel”.

  16. mary said on February 2nd, 2009 at 11:57pm #

    Albert is in danger of believing his own propaganda.

    There is no contrition or sorrow in the Zionist heart for the Palestinian deaths and injuries that Israel has just caused.

  17. bozh said on February 3rd, 2009 at 6:35am #

    christianity is also a continuing threat to a ‘jewish’ state. pope has been in favor of establishment of a ‘jewish’ state and expressed desire to catholicize them.
    US christians also want to christianize israelis. it can be assumed that world plutos wld also reject both the cult and a state for ‘jews’ only.

    as we can see nationalism is no longer a tool for selfpromotion: power and money now suffices to obtain lands, resources, etc.
    nationalism (americanism) was a tool in awakening patriotism in the cannon fodder but not any longer.
    now it is money, especially for higher army echelons, that is sole spur for ever greater carnage. thnx

  18. Kaia said on February 3rd, 2009 at 11:17am #

    International Criminal Court officials are considering an application by the Palestinian Authority that could allow it to investigate war crimes in Gaza.

    Please write or call the ICC and encourage them to investigate Israel’s war crimes, without impartial investigation Israel’s genocide will never get the coverage needed by world media and will not change when the media insists on portraying Israel = good, Hamas = bad.

    International Criminal Court
    The Hague
    Bezuidenhoutseweg 99a
    2594 AC The Hague
    The Netherlands
    Telephone: +31-70-363-4484
    Fax: +31-70-364-0259
    E-mail: gro.wonccinull@eugah-ccic