Right to exist: Wikis


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The right to exist is an alleged attribute of the sovereign state, although the concept itself is virtually nonexistent in international law. One essay on nationalism by nineteenth century French philosopher Ernest Renan helped popularize the phrase.[1] However, more contemporary International Relations scholarship has paid very little attention to the "right to exist" as a theoretical concept. As a result, the idea itself is relatively underdeveloped. It has featured prominently in the Arab-Israeli dispute since 1967. Following the Six Day War, the Israeli parliament unanimously passed a resolution that offered to return the Arab territories Israel had just conquered in exchange for "peace and recognition of its right to exist."[2] The right to exist of a de facto state is on occasion balanced against another state's right to territorial integrity.[3] Proponents of the right to exist trace it back to the "right of existence," said to be a fundamental right of states recognized by writers on international law for hundreds of years.[4] Michael Scheuer, and others, charge that the right is "ahistorical."[5]

In ontology, existence is a matter of fact rather than a moral right.


Since 1967, the phrase "right to exist" has most commonly referred to Israel. The Israeli Knesset passed a resolution passed immediately after the Six-Day War of June 1967 in which Jerusalem offered to return the recently conquered territory in exchange for "peace and recognition of its right to exist."[2] This resolution was past unanimously and even Menachem Begin, who would later criticize this formulation, voted for it.[2] Egyptian spokesman Mohammed H. el-Zayyat responded that Cairo had accepted Israel's right to exist since the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli armistice in 1949.[6] He added that this did not imply recognition of Israel.[6] In November, Egypt accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242, which implied acceptance of Israel's right to exist. At the same time, President Nasser urged Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to reject the resolution. "You must be our irresponsible arm," he said.[7]

Upon assuming the premiership in 1977, Begin spoke as follows:

Our right to exist--have you ever heard of such a thing? Would it enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Hungarian or Bulgarian, Russian or American, to request for its people recognition of its right to exist? Mr. Speaker: We were granted our right to exist by the God of our fathers at the glimmer of the dawn of human civilization four thousand years ago. Hence, the Jewish people have an historic, eternal and inalienable right to exist in this land, Eretz Israel, the land of our forefathers. We need nobody's recognition in asserting this inalienable right. And for this inalienable right, which has been sanctified in Jewish blood from generation to generation, we have paid a price unexampled in the annals of nations. Mr. Speaker: From the Knesset of Israel, I say to the world, our very existence per se is our right to exist![8]

In 2009 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demanded the Palestinian Authority's acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.[9] The Knesset plenum gave initial approval in May 2009 to a bill criminalising the public denial of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, with a penalty of up to a year in prison.[10]



According to Noam Chomsky, the term "right to exist" is unique to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "No state has a right to exist, and no one demands such a right....In an effort to prevent negotiations and a diplomatic settlement, the U.S. and Israel insisted on raising the barrier to something that nobody’s going to accept....[ Palestinians are] not going to accept...the legitimacy of their dispossession."[11] John V. Whitbeck argued that Israel's insistence on a right to exist forces Palestinians to provide a moral justification for their own suffering.[12]

Palestinian state

An independent Arab Palestinian state has a legal right to exist under Resolution 181 of the United Nations of 29 November 1947. The existence of an Arab Palestinian State was declared on November 15, 1988. It has achieved Diplomatic recognition by 96 countries.[13][14], exactly half the members of the United Nations. Following the Oslo accords and 2006 Palestinian elections, the Palestinian National Authority government is split in de-facto civil war between Hamas and Fatah (Palestine Liberation Organization). It is estimated that 5,000,000 of the 9,395,000 to 11 million Palestinian Arabs are currently stateless people.[15][16]

The Peel Commission recommended the establishment of an Arab state cooexistent with a Jewish state within the borders of the British Mandate for Palestine. In 1947 UNSCOP concluded

(a) Although sharply divided by political issues, the peoples of Palestine are sufficiently advanced to govern themselves independently.

(b) The Arab and Jewish peoples, after more than a quarter of a century of tutelage under the Mandate, both seek a means of effective expression for their national aspirations.

(c) It is highly unlikely that any arrangement which would fail to envisage independence at a reasonably early date would find the slightest welcome among either Arabs or Jews.

UN General Assembly Resolution 181 states "Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, set forth in Part III of this Plan, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948"[17]

In a speech in June 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama said "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's."[18]

On June 14 2009, Binyamin Netanyahu, accepted an eventual Palestinian state which must “clearly and unambiguously recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people”, meaning that Palestinian refugees must be settled outside of Israel’s borders, since resettlement within Israel would undermine its existence as Jewish. The Palestinian state must be “demilitarised, namely, without an army, without control of its airspace, and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory”. The state would not be allowed to forge military pacts with other countries. Other “positions” included Israel's need for “defensible borders” and Jerusalem would remain as the united capital of Israel.[19]


In 2008, Patricia Flor, German ambassador to Georgia, told the Georgian Times newspaper that; "Abkhaz should feel they can voice their concerns and can be open about their identity... we also say of course that the Abkhaz nation has a right to exist and to decide for themselves how they are going to live and how they want to use the Abkhaz language".[20]

In August 2008 Russia recognised Abkhazia's independence, stating that "Using repeatedly brutal military force against the peoples, whom, according to his words, he would like to see within his State, Mikhail Saakashvili left them no other choice but to ensure their security and the right to exist through self-determination as independent States."[21]


  • 1791 Thomas Paine Rights of Man "The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist."[22]
  • 1823 Sir Walter Scott "Admitting, however, this right to exist in the Greek people is a different question whether there is any right, much more any call, for the nations of Europe to interfere in their support."[23]
  • 1882 Ernest Renan "What is a nation?" So long as this moral consciousness gives proof of its strength by the sacrifices which demand the abdication of the individual to the advantage of the community, it is legitimate and has the right to exist [ French: le droit d'exister].[1]
  • 1916 American Institute of International Law "Every nation has the right to exist, and to protect and to conserve its existence."[24]
  • 1922 Cemal Paşa "In a word, the [Young Turks] want to make the Turkish race respected in the eyes of the world and secure its right to exist side by side with the other nations in the twentieth century."[25]
  • 2009 Barack Obama "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's."[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b Renan, Ernest, "What is a Nation?", 1882.
  2. ^ a b c King, Ruth, "The War of 1967: 40 Years Later, No Celebration", May 29, 2007
  3. ^ "[1]"
  4. ^ Oppenheim, Lassa and Ronald Roxburgh, (2005) International Law, p. 192-193.
  5. ^ Scheuer, Michael (2008) Marching toward hell: America and Islam after Iraq‎, p. 27, ISBN 0743299698
  6. ^ a b Whetten, Lawrence L. (1974). The Canal War: Four-Power Conflict in the Middle East. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-262-23069-0. http://books.google.com/books?id=AY9tAAAAMAAJ&q=&pgis=1.  
  7. ^ Alexander, Anne, Nasser, p. 150. ISBN 1904341837.
  8. ^ "Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Begin upon the presentation of his government- June 20, 1977", Volumes 4-5: 1977-1979, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  9. ^ Ronen, Gil, "Knesset okays initial bill to outlaw denial of 'Jewish state'", Nov. 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Shragai, Nadav, "Knesset okays initial bill to outlaw denial of 'Jewish state'", Haaretz, May 30, 2009.
  11. ^ Titlow, John (2005-06-01). "On the Future of Democracy, Noam Chomsky interviewed by John P. Titlow". chomsky.info. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/200506--.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-20.  
  12. ^ Whitbeck, John V. (February 2, 2007). "What 'Israel's right to exist' means to Palestinians". The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0202/p09s02-coop.html. Retrieved 2009-05-27.  
  13. ^ http://imeu.net/news/article0065.shtml IMEU: 3.10 - How many countries recognize Palestine as a state?
  14. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20060404211437/http://www.pna.gov.ps/Government/gov/recognition_of_the_State_of_Palestine.asp International Recognition of the State of Palestine
  15. ^ http://www.doublestandards.org/fraser2.html
  16. ^ Abbas Shiblak (2005). "Reflections on the Palestinian Diaspora in Europe". The Palestinian Diaspora in Europe: Challenges of Dual Identity and Adaptation (Institute of Jerusalem Studies). ISBN 9950315042. http://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/PDFs/Shiblak.pdf.  
  17. ^ http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace%20Process/UN%20General%20Assembly%20Resolution%20181
  18. ^ a b http://www.maannews.net/en/index.php?opr=ShowDetails&ID=38302
  19. ^ http://www.economist.com/world/mideast-africa/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13813043
  20. ^ Patricia Flor: “Abkhaz conflict is no longer frozen; The German ambassador says Abkhazs distrust the European Union,” by Ketevan Khachidze, Georgian Times, 2008.08.04[2]
  21. ^ http://www.rusembassy.in/eng/news/PRESS%20RELEASE%20OSSETIA.EN.doc.
  22. ^ Paine, Thomas, (1791) The Rights of Man
  23. ^ Scott, Walter, "The Greek Revolution", Edinburgh Annual Register of 1823, p. 249.
  24. ^ Root, Elihu, "The Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Nations Adopted by the American Institute of International Law" The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 10, No. 2, (Apr., 1916), pp. 211-221.
  25. ^ Paşa Cemal, Memories of a Turkish Statesman-1913-1919, Published by George H. Doran Company, 1922, p. 200

Further reading

External links


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