Rediscovering Israel’s Fundamental Rights

, September 15, 2011

Jerusalem Post

To help combat delegitimization efforts against Israel, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs compiled expert analyses for a new book.

‘Not so long ago I received a phone call from a major Jewish activist in American politics who asked, and confessed to me, that many people in his community did not understand why you need a Jewish state and they were asking fundamental questions that we had not heard for many years. So we began writing about the rights of a Jewish people to a state of their own.’ Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN and current president of the Jerusalem Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is serious; seriously worried that Israel’s leaders, the Jewish people, supporters of Israel, European diplomats and US congressmen are unequipped with a plain text statement that shows clearly why Israel deserves the rights of a normal nation and why the Palestinian desire for statehood does not negate those rights.

The JCPA’s offices are located in a pretty stone building in a lush neighborhood of Katamon, not far from the German Colony in Jerusalem.

A well-known Jerusalem institution, the JCPA chose its director, former Israeli ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, to edit a volume that would “bunch together in simple terms all the major claims against Israel’s rights, so anybody who needs to brush up on information about those rights, [for instance] to a national homeland, or Israel’s status in the Gaza strip” would have this volume at their disposal.

Along with Dan Diker, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, Gold and Baker compiled essays by leading commentators, experts and scholars. These include Israel Prize winners Prof. Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University, Prof. Ruth Gavison, famed American jurist Alan Dershowitz, and Sir Martin Gilbert, the British biographer of Winston Churchill. Israel’s Rights as a Nation State in International Diplomacy was published yesterday, September 15.

“The book has a sequence; the order of the chapters is the order in which the state has developed and how the basic rights are being challenged,” explains Baker. The concept was to organize the book starting with the simple premise that the Jews have a right to a national homeland and ending with discussions about current accusations that Israel is a colonial or apartheid state.

Gold, Baker and Diker are confident, and neither defensive nor overbearing.

They exude authority and are adamant that Israel’s defenders have been disarmed for too long. Gold tells an illustrative story: “If you call and ask a Palestinian at 3 a.m. what he wants, he will say a state on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital. On the other hand, Israelis [tend to] have an abstract goal of a ‘peace process.’” This disconnect renders Israel impotent.

Gold explains that “the point of this book is to equip ourselves to understand these rights.”

Diker is concise in his views and excited about the authors’ achievement. “We all thought this book would provide a text that is a fundamental text of Israel’s rights that could be taught.”

The idea is that Israel is not asserting the rights it has, such as the right of Jewish refugees to be recognized and a right to equality in the United Nations, where Israel is frequently discriminated against.

In chapter after chapter the authors argue that most of what we know about Israel and international law is predicated on either faulty suppositions or incorrect information. Take UN Resolution 242, which supposedly demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders. Ruth Lapidot argues on the topic that “the resolution does not request Israel to withdraw from all the territories occupied in the 1967 Six Day War. Second, I will show that, contrary to certain opinions, the resolution does not recognize that the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel. It will be shown that the resolution recommends that the parties negotiate in good faith in order to reach an agreement based on certain principles.”

OF GREAT interest is Dore Gold’s explanation on Jerusalem. He goes back to the period of 1967 and shows that “the Jordanian invasion of the West Bank – and Jerusalem – 19 years earlier in 1948 had been unlawful. As a result, Jordan did not gain legal rights in the years that followed, given the legal principle. Furthermore, “I looked at the famous legal minds from the past such as Prof. Elihu Lauterpacht, and there was a clear opinion emerging that the rights of Israel and the claims of Israel to keeping Jerusalem united under its sovereignty were stronger than any other claimant at the time, and that is something that many observers are hardly aware of…. In the famous UN Partition Plan 181, it is true that it envisioned [Jerusalem being contained in] a corpus separatum run by a UN official, however it also specified that after 10 years there would be a referendum based on what the residents wanted to do. It was understood that this would lead to a result where Jerusalem would return to the Jews. The notion that Jerusalem must be outside the Jewish state is not reflected in the documents at the time.”

The book is being published to coincide with the Palestinian quest for the UN’s recognition of its unilateral declaration of independence. What Gold, Baker and Diker want to emphasize is the degree to which this declaration would fly in the face of not only the agreements drafted in the 1990s with the Palestinians, but also UN resolutions. Gold notes that “the PA will put forward a resolution that will try to enshrine those [1967] lines and leave Israel in a much more difficult position…

[and] it will make it more difficult for the Palestinians to negotiate. So, in many ways, this resolution undermines any possibility of a solution. If we go back to resolution 242 and 338, they envision that issues can only be dealt with by negotiation. If they adopt this then they will be negating their own resolutions.”

“It is also my belief that while the Palestinians like to claim that they are taking this move at the UN, in order to level the playing field at Israel and therefore renew negotiations, [Palestininan Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas is interested really in using this move to wage lawfare against the State of Israel…. It is extremely important that the book lays out for diplomats, for the media and leaders, the rights of Israel, right before the Palestinians try and take them away.”

Another issue that concerns the authors is the ramifications of a Palestinian state receiving its status before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and therefore having the ability to prosecute Israelis who are living beyond the 1967 lines.

Gold is more pessimistic on this issue, while Baker claims that “If it materializes then ostensibly everybody in east Jerusalem could be in violation of the ICC. But the ICC is so bogged down preparing writs of arrest in Kenya that they really are not yet in a position to deal with a huge mass of claims by the Palestinians.

This is a non-issue that is being fanned artificially…. Some think that the day after the resolution is adopted then Israelis become criminal occupiers.”

Gold, Baker and Diker see this as the beginning of a long and renewed process whereby Israel reasserts its rights and relearns how to defend itself in the international legal context. “This is only a single book and a conference, but this is the first shot in a long struggle that we have to wage and the JCPA will be a pivotal point in that activity,” says Gold.

Baker adds that “part of the reason we created this book was to change the parameters of the discussion, this lingua franca of the peace process. We have gotten so far away from it that it has created legal and diplomatic chaos.”

Diker sums up the tome with the explanation that “[as opposed to being reactive] actually this is going on the offensive. This book presents, in a new way, an answer to the lack of Israeli response to the ‘Zionism is Racism’ UN resolution of 1975. [Today] we face a continuation by other means of that resolution and our book reflects an important learning curve that has taken place in Israel. We hope that the strength of this text will provide a true foundation for people to make their own rightsbased case.”

About Seth Frantzman

Seth Frantzman is op ed editor of the Jerusalem Post.