WHATEVER HAPPENED TO LEGITIMACY?
By Paul Merkley.
The government of Israel was properly enraged that Ban Ki-Moon, in his farewell address as Secretary-General of the UN, chose to single out Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestine” as the fundamental cause of unhappiness among people who live in the Arab world, and, in doing so, offered justification for the campaign of terror being conducted daily by Palestinian Arabs against citizens of Israel. “Palestinian frustration,” he proclaimed, “is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process….As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”
How did we get to this moment when our most esteemed public voices are recommending terror as a “natural reaction”?
On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted, 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions, to accept Partition of the Mandate under which Great Britain had governed Palestine; there was to be “a Jewish State” and “an Arab State.” As it turned out, this would be the last occasion when the two “Superpowers” voted on the same side of major issue until one of them — the U.S.S.R. –handed over its nameplate to be melted down.
Despite great disappointment regarding the tiny dimensions of the State that the UN would be handing over, the Zionists agreed to the process. The entire Arab world, operating, as always, under the zero-sum thinking which is the hallmark of Islam, refused to accept that any part of what had previously been ruled by Muslims (the Ottomans) should be ceded to anybody. They appealed to the God of War. They lost that appeal then – as they would lose it again more times than can be counted except by historical specialists.
Those nations who opposed the decision of the World’s Parliament and who started up that sequence of wars intended to drive the Jews into the sea, should have been made to answer at that time. They should, at very least, have been expelled from the United Nations so long as they remained in defiance not only of the Partition decision but of the chain of consequences that have followed from it.
To make an issue of Israel’s “right to exist” was to make issue with the whole possibility of purpose in History. If it is claimed that for a nation to enjoy “existence” there has to be some process of legitimation or authorization, what did Israel lack that other nations have? On the other hand, there was much that was dark and disreputable about the historical processes that had brought into existence those Arab nations that stood in judgment of Israel’s right to exist after 1948. Many were just as new in the world as Israel; some were even newer, having been recently manufactured along essentially artificial or fortuitous lines out of the remnants of European Empires; all of them were dictatorships or recently-founded “monarchies.” None had a pedigree to match that of Israel, whose History is recorded in texts that are at least four thousand years old.
Legitimacy Under Intellectual Assault.
Somewhere along the way, Israel has lost her most important asset. That asset was respect for Legitimacy. It was not because of anything that Israel did that she lost this asset. Rather, it was the consequence of a profound change in mental and philosophical attitudes in the world around her.
The notion of Legitimacy can occur only in minds prepared to respect the irreversibility of consequences taken by historical actors of the past – as was certainly true of the minds of most people alive in November, 1947, only a few months after the Allies won a war for the purpose of overthrowing illegitimate regimes based upon military conquest.
Mainstream political philosophy of the past was based upon the understanding there are consequences to all of History. History is not a board game. No one can go back to an earlier square and say: we want the decision of 1947-1948 reversed in our favor — and then we shall start again. If there are powerful reasons for overturning decisions of the past, these reasons must be addressed, and the History which brought about the decision must be addressed. This thinking is of a piece with traditional thinking about law and order. Order follows from exercise of power by legitimate authority; and to determine what is legitimate use of power, we must go to History. The situation is no different with respect to international issues. The alternative to this mainstream view is that power itself is illegitimate. This thinking provides the ground on which communism, anarchism, and nihilism all stand.
In the secular mind, Legitimacy has largely been displaced by various subversive theories. I use this word in its correct literal sense, referring to theories that advocate the equal authority and prestige of all social and political arrangements: parity of family and anti-family; parity of all forms of artistic expression; parity of any number of preferences and “lifestyles”. In Philosophy Departments, this has led to the banishment of History of Philosophy, opening the path to the subsequent declension: existentialism to de-constructionism and (now we are told) post-deconstructionism. In Departments of History, it ended the priority of the History of Western Civilization – which, in effect, has meant purging the curriculum of History. In Political Science Departments, it has meant escape from History, and preference for a curriculum made up of deconstructionist theories of community that reflect the infinite plasticity of all human relationships. Historical thinking is denounced in academic circles as “linear” and “Euro-centered.” All that matters is “justice” – “justice” now understood as leveling everything out, so that all claims are equal. Inspired by this contempt for history and hence for Legitimacy, the World Council of Churches refuses even to contemplate the History of the creation of Israel, preferring ion its official memoranda to speak of “OPI” (Occupied Palestine & Israel.)
Policy makers in Canada, following the lead of policy makers in the State Department of the United States, have abandoned legitimacy in favor of an approach conceived in University Departments of Political Science and International Relations, where historical study has virtually withered away, and where “Conflict Resolution” and “game theory” reign. This thinking, in turn, draws on a broader literature which has flourished much longer in Schools of Social Work. Common to all this literature is the argument that since all “disputes” are grounded in arguments about the past, about History, their relief will come only when the historical record is severed willfully from the present state-of-things.
When these insights are applied to conflicts between nations, as in “the Arab-Israeli dispute,” the one thing needful, the summum bonum is at hand: parity of self- esteem. To achieve parity, both sides are stipulated to be “nations” or “peoples” having histories of identical length, culminating in accomplishments of identical worth and character. Champions of the “Palestinian cause” concede that materials necessary for Palestinian “nationhood” are still under construction, but insist that fairness requires treating both parties as though they had the same assets. Since our different evaluations of Israeli and “Palestinian” claims to land, natural resources, religious locales, archeological sites, etc., result from our reading of History, we must set aside the fussy, “linear”, Western-oriented thinking which historians have always employed, and participate in the promotion of the virtues of “myth”, and other non-historical, a-historical, or para-historical kinds of presentation of the past.
Not only on the Palestinian side, of course, but equally among Left-wing Israeli politicians with deep investments in the historical inevitability of the “Peace Process,” this argument for equating the authority of mythical and historical recollections of the past is highly prized. Yitzhak Rabin, in the second edition of his memoirs, which appeared in 1994, sets the Oslo Process in the context of recent fast-paced political events which augured, he said, a new aeon of change, leading towards universal peace: “The world is turning upside-down before our eyes: the globes and atlases in your homes have become archeological findings … Ideologies that moved hundreds of millions vanished without a trace: ideas which brought about the death of millions died themselves overnight … We are undergoing the revolution of peace.” [Quoted in Martin Gilbert, Israel: A History (Toronto: Turner Books, 1998), 566.] At about the same time (May, 1994), Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister of Israel at the time of the Oslo negotiations and their principal champion on the Israeli side ever since , announced: “Today we have ended the Arab-Israeli conflict. Utopia is coming.” [Jerusalem Post, 4 June, 1994.]
As I write these words, February 3, 2016, it is clearer than ever that Utopia has not come and is not coming. One by one, most of the advocates of the Oslo Process have renounced their criminal utopianism.
Requirements for a Realistic Policy.
An honorable and realistic Canadian policy must begin with unqualified affirmation of the Legitimacy of the decision which brought into existence the State of Israel and the illegitimacy of all actions subsequently taken in consequence of the original rejection of the will of the United Nations.
Much damage has been done since Oslo to the thinking of policy –makers in western governments by their acquiescence in the unilateral assumption by the Palestine Authority of attributes of sovereignty to which the Oslo Accords do not entitle it. Even before the Oslo Accords, “Palestine” had been given standing at the UN and virtually all of the privileges of membership (excepting the actual right to vote.) In the capitals of most member nations of the UN, there is a delegation of the Palestine Authority, which has simply usurped the title of Embassy, and which is presided over by an “Ambassador.” The “President of Palestine,” the Prime Minister of Palestine, and other Ministers of the “Government of Palestine” – not one of whom holds his office by democratic mandate — travel incessantly to capitals of “other nations” and are received with full diplomatic honours.
The Palestine Authority needs to be reminded that it is not the voice of a sovereign people, and that it does not have equal standing with the State of Israel in diplomatic settings. Then, and only then, can things begin to be set right. Then, and then only, can a process begin which, almost everyone agrees, should result in the creation of an Arab Palestinian State. Until then, Canada should withhold support of a Peace Process which is still driven by the ruinous notion of parity between Legitimacy and illegitimacy.