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by Evelyn Gordon


Conventional wisdom holds that Israel's international standing is directly related to its willingness to move toward peace with the Palestinians. Yet in recent years, despite previously unimaginable concessions, its international standing, far from improving, has hit an all-time low.

Consider some of the past few years' developments:

SO WHY have years of Israeli concessions produced not acclaim, but unprecedented international opprobrium? The answer is twofold. One part relates to the general public, and the other to a small but influential group of opinion leaders. I will discuss the first now, and the second next week.

Among the general public, the growing view of Israel as a pariah would be impossible had Israeli (and international Jewish) leaders not abandoned one simple tenet that all of them maintained prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords: that Israel has a valid claim to the West Bank and Gaza.

This claim does not necessitate Israel's retention of these areas; countries throughout history have occasionally ceded land to secure peace agreements. But only if Israel has a valid claim to the territories can giving them up be a "painful concession" that merits reward by the international community. If Israel has no claim, it is merely a thief. And no one would admire, much less compensate, a thief for the "painful concession" of returning some, though not all, of his ill-gotten gains - or for offering to return some, but again not all, of the remainder in exchange for sufficient reward. On the contrary: The thief deserves opprobrium, boycotts and divestment.

Indeed, if Israel has no claim to this land, even its seemingly unassailable demand that the Palestinians end terror in exchange for Israel's withdrawal loses validity. Israel can reasonably refuse to cede land to which it has a valid claim without receiving peace in exchange. But if the land belongs to the Palestinians, then Palestinian violence, ostensibly aimed at retrieving their stolen property, becomes understandable - and so does their claim that Israel has no right to impose conditions on its return.

THIS, HOWEVER, is precisely the picture that Israeli (and international Jewish) leaders have painted for the past 13 years. No Israeli leader talks any longer about Israel's right to the territories; instead, they talk about the Palestinians' "right" to statehood and the need to end "the occupation." But if the Palestinians have a "right" to a state on this land, it must belong to them; similarly, if Israel is "occupying" the Palestinians, the land must be theirs. That is what "right" and "occupation" mean.

Then, as if this were not bad enough, the unilateral withdrawal craze compounded the problem.

Until three years ago, Israel deemed uprooting settlements a national and personal tragedy - a painful (and expensive) move that merited sympathy and compensation. And the human portion of this tragedy - tens of thousands of people thrown out of their homes - would arguably be undiminished even if the territories were stolen Palestinian land. But now, two successive Israeli leaders have declared that far from being a tragedy, uprooting settlements is an Israeli interest, because they constitute a demographic and security burden. And if dismantling settlements serves Israel's interests, how can this possibly constitute a "painful concession" that merits either sympathy or compensation?

THUS IF Israel is to have any hope of reversing the rising tide of worldwide antipathy, it must start by reiterating the basic truths that have disappeared from its discourse over the last 13 years: that Israel has a valid claim to this land, and that ceding this claim is not an Israeli "interest," but a wrenching move conceivable only in exchange for suitable recompense.

The case, briefly, is as follows:

And finally, Israel acquired these lands not in a war of conquest, but in a defensive war.

At this late date, reversing the international perception of Israel as a thief rather than a legitimate claimant will be a Herculean task. But unless Israel makes the effort, it will increasingly be treated as a criminal rather than a seeker of peace.

Evelyn Gordon is a staff columnist at the Jerusalem Post.

This article appeared in The Jerusalem Post
( JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull) June 8, 2006.


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