Rejecting the Occupation Is Not the Same as Rejecting Israel's Right to Exist

By this formula, recognizing Israel cannot be separated from recognizing its right to continue occupying the territories, and therefore the occupation must continue.

Pro-Palestinian activists rally in New York against the Israeli occupation.
Anadolu Agency

“Our goal is that in 2025 no one in the world will question Israel’s right to exist,” Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Sima Vaknin said this week, explaining her dream to the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information. This vision comes with a price tag: 128 million shekels ($34 million) this year.

That’s clearly a great deal, considering it’s for therapy for a state suffering from anxiety over the loss of its international legitimacy. Even if that amount is spent in each of the next 10 years, after which the therapy is supposed to end, we can be satisfied with the deal.

Only two nagging questions, evidently unimportant in Vaknin’s eyes, undermine her assertions. What exactly will happen over the next 10 years, during which this “upset” is supposed to occur? And what is this new legitimacy to which Israel aspires?

Since we’re the ones who will be paying for the therapy, we have a right to ask what our approximately 1.25 billion shekels will be spent on. Is this the cost of propaganda videos depicting the good life led by the Palestinians under the occupation? Is it the price of sending logorrheic delegations to world capitals to explain the wonder known as Israel? Or perhaps the money will go for sealing the territories in plastic, so that even satellites won’t be able to photograph the new settlements that are being built? After all, Vaknin knows a thing or two about concealing facts. Before landing her current post she succeeded Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev as the chief military censor.

Still, we can handle the cost. After all, a billion is the going rate for political payments in this country. But where did this battle over Israel’s “right to exist” and legitimacy spring from? Didn’t the United Nations recognize Israel’s right to exist 67 years ago? Is there a single country, other than Iran, that doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state?

Vaknin, and she isn’t alone in this, is confusing Israel’s right to exist with rejection of its right to occupy territories that don’t belong to it. She’s confusing the reasons that turned Israel into a “pariah state,” in her words, with the symptoms of a serious disease. She’s confusing international recognition — which already exists — of the right of Jews (and Arabs) to live in a distinct territorial entity, with defensible borders, over which a single national flag will fly, with international recognition of the Palestinians’ right to their own state and international nonrecognition of the legitimate state’s occupation regime.

Vaknin presented an illusion according to which, 10 years down her road, her ministry will have succeeded in upending this view and convincing the world to recognize the legitimacy of the occupation. She thereby asserted that recognizing the occupation is an inseparable part of recognizing Israel’s right to exist; that Israel’s right to exist and national identity are dependent on recognition of the occupation.

But she overlooked the ambush that she set up for Israel. According to the formula that she proposed, recognition of Israel cannot be separated from recognition of its right to continue occupying the territories. From this, it follows that Israel must continue the occupation, because the day the occupation ends Israel will also lose its legitimacy.

This was the view of the colonial empires, which saw their colonies not just as a source of natural resources, money and markets, but also as confirmation of their imperial power and their aspiration to continue being imperial powers. Yet these empires collapsed and turned into legitimate states. Their eras of occupation are recorded in history’s darker chapters, and only Israel continues to see the territories it occupied as its very raison d’etre.

No national reversal could be more dramatic or more absurd than this determination, which turns the state into a branch of the occupied territories. Even the greatest of empires renounced such nonsense.

But what do we know? We’ll just have to wait and see. Ten years and 1.25 billion shekels are a mere bagatelle compared to the God of Israel.