Open main menu

Emblem of the State of Israel

The legitimacy of the State of Israel has been questioned by nation states and others, specifically, whether Israel's political authority over the area it claims should be accepted as legitimate political authority. The argument as to the legitimacy of the State of Israel is also couched in terms of Israel's right to exist.

Israel has been a member of the United Nations since 11 May 1949,[1][2] but, as of 2013, 32 United Nations member states did not recognise the State of Israel. United Nations member states do not recognize Israel and question its legitimacy or right to exist. The campaign against the legitimacy of Israel is a campaign especially by some Palestinian and Arab leaders and groups for countries to deny or withdraw recognition of Israel.


Diplomatic normalization and legitimacy

From an international relations perspective, Israel meets basic standards for legitimacy as a state.[3][page needed]

As of 2013, 32 United Nations member states did not recognise the State of Israel: 18 of the 21 UN members in the Arab League: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen; a further 11 members of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Chad, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mali, Niger, and Pakistan; and Bhutan, Cuba, and North Korea.[4] On the other hand, four members of the Arab League recognise Israel: Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania and Palestine; and most of the non-Arab members of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also recognise Israel.[citation needed]

A handshake between Hussein I of Jordan and Yitzhak Rabin, accompanied by Bill Clinton, during the Israel-Jordan peace negotiations, 25 July 1994

In the 1990s, Islamic and leftist movements in Jordan attacked the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace as legitimization.[5] Significant minorities in Jordan see Israel as an illegitimate state, and reversing the normalization of diplomatic relations was central to Jordanian discourse.[6]

In 2002 the Arab League unanimously adopted the Arab Peace Initiative at their Beirut summit. The comprehensive peace plan called for full normalization of Arab-Israeli relations in return for full Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in June 1967.[7] Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia said that in endorsing the initiative every Arab state had "made clear that they will pay the price for peace, not only by recognising Israel as a legitimate state in the area, but also to normalise relations with it and end the state of hostilities that had existed since 1948."[8][9]

Palestinian Authority and Hamas

Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony, 13 September 1993

Following the Oslo I Accord, the Palestinian Authority and Israel conditionally recognized each other's right to govern specific areas of the country. This boosted Israel's legal authority and legitimacy on the international stage.[10] Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, said while speaking at the UN regarding Palestinian recognition, "We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel."[11]

Hamas, in contrast, does not recognize Israel as a legitimate government. Furthermore, Hamas denies the legitimacy of the Oslo I Accord.[12]

Rhetoric of delegitimization

Especially in recent years, following the Palestinian legislative election of 2006 and Hamas' governance of the Gaza Strip, the term "delegitimisation" has been frequently applied to rhetoric surrounding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Legitimacy rhetoric as antisemitism

Delegitimization is seen by some observers to be a double standard which separates Israel from other legitimate nations which have imperfect government. Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, discussed a 3D Test for determining new antisemitism. The third of the three D's is delegitimization. He explains "when Israel's fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is anti-Semitism."[13]

Dore Gold, President of the Israeli Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, believes there is a "campaign to delegitimize Israel" based on three themes, a "denial of Israel's right to security", "portrayal of Israel as a criminal state", and "denial of Jewish history".[14] Elhanan Yakira, professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, also considers portrayal of Israel as "criminal" and denial of Jewish history, specifically the Holocaust, to be key to a delegitimizing narrative.[15] Alan Dershowitz believes that other standard lines of argument include claims of Israel's "colonial" nature, a belief that statehood was not granted "legally", the apartheid analogy, and the necessity of a one-state solution.[16] According to Irwin Cotler, the lopsided number of anti-Israel resolutions passed by the UN is an example of delegitimization.[17]

Canadian ex-Foreign Minister John Baird has characterized Israel’s delegitimization as the new antisemitism.[18]

Legitimacy rhetoric as distraction

M.J. Rosenberg, writing in the Los Angeles Times, argued that the term "delegitimization" is a "distraction", whose purpose is to divert attention away from world opposition to the "illegitimate" occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip, from the "illegal" settlements, and from "the ever-louder calls for Israel to grant Palestinians equal rights". He concludes that "It's not the Palestinians who are delegitimizing Israel, but the Israeli government, which maintains the occupation. And the leading delegitimizer is Netanyahu, whose contemptuous rejection of peace is turning Israel into an international pariah."[19]

Dangers of delegitimization to peace

According to Gerald Steinberg writing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, attacks on Israel's legitimacy are a barrier to the Israeli–Palestinian peace process.[20] Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli intelligence said that "delegitimization of Israel is a graver threat than war."[21] Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, says "for 100 years, through violence and delegitimization, Israelis and Palestinians have made sure that the other was never allowed to really feel at home in Israel."[22] Delegitimization of the adversary, among all the psychological themes, is said to be "one of the major detrimental forces that turns a conflict to be vicious and violent, while preventing its peaceful resolution."[23]

US President Barack Obama said in a May 2011 speech "for the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."[24] In 2012, the president said, "whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the State of Israel, my administration has opposed them."[25] Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Attorney General, said that delegitimization is "masked under the current discourse". It is hidden in the anti-Israel resolutions passed by the UN, universal jurisdiction is "often abused" regarding Israel, it is "laundered under the cover of human rights", and is hidden behind the use of accusations of racism and apartheid.[17]

Delegitimization is seen as a threat to Israel's security. Demands for Israel to not enter into Gaza and defeat Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense are characterized by David Schwartz as a "delegitimization of Israel's right to defend itself."[26] Tzipi Livni said that "the threat of delegitimization intensifies other threats facing Israel, and limits our ability to protect ourselves."[27]

Legitimacy and Israeli uniqueness

Professor Emanuel Adler of the University of Toronto considers Israel as willing to accept a situation where its legitimacy may be challenged, because it sees itself as occupying a unique place in the world order.[28] Stacie E. Goddard of Wellesley College argues that the legitimacy of Israeli historical narratives is used as a tool to secure territory.[29]

See also


  1. ^ 3 July 2006
  2. ^ "Two Hundred and Seventh Plenary Meeting". The United Nations. 11 May 1949. Archived from the original on 12 September 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  3. ^ Edward M. Siegel, ed., Israel's Legitimacy in Law and History (New York: Center for Near East Policy), 1993
  4. ^ United States Congress (5 June 2008). "H. RES. 1249" (PDF). Since the publication of this document, Maldives has recognized Israel.
  5. ^ Paul L. Scham and Russell E. Lucas. "'Normalization' and 'Anti-Normalization' in Jordan: The Public Debate" Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 3 (September 2001)
  6. ^ Mustafa Hamarneh, Rosemary Hollis, Khalil Shikaki. Jordanian-Palestinian Relations – Where to? Four Scenarios for the Future. Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1997. p. 8
  7. ^ Robertson, L (2003). Security and Environment in the Mediterranean: Conceptualising Security and Environmental Conflicts. Springer. p. 340. ISBN 3540401075.
  8. ^ Black, Ian (18 October 2008). "Time to resurrect the Arab peace plan". Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  9. ^ "About ORG". Oxford Research group. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  10. ^ Burhan Dajani. "The September 1993 Israeli-PLO Documents: A Textual Analysis". Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. 23, No. 3 (Spring, 1994), pp. 5–23
  11. ^ David Ariosto and Michael Pearson (30 November 2012). "U.N. approves Palestinian 'observer state' bid". CNN. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  12. ^ "Haniyeh calls for formation of Palestinian state on 1967 lines". Haaretz. Associated Press. 19 December 2006. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  13. ^ Natan Sharansky (Fall 2004). "3D Test of Anti-Semitism: Demonization, Double Standards, Delegitimization". Jewish Political Studies Review. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  14. ^ The Challenge to Israel’s Legitimacy
  15. ^ Elhanan Yakira. Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust: Three Essays on Denial, Forgetting, and the Delegitimation of Israel. Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 0521127866. pp. 36–46
  16. ^ Alan Dershowitz. "Countering Challenges to Israel's Legitimacy". Israel's Rights as a Nation-State in International Diplomacy. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2011.
  17. ^ a b Harkov, Lahav (20 March 2012). "'Delegitimization of Israel masked as good vs. evil'". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  18. ^ Keinon, Herb (31 January 2012). "Delegitimization of Israel is new anti-Semitism". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  19. ^ Rosenberg, M.J. (17 July 2011). "Israel: 'Delegitimization' is just a distraction". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  20. ^ Gerald M. Steinberg (22 August 2002). "Starting Over After Oslo". Jerusalem Center for Public Policy. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  21. ^ Podolsky, Philip (26 December 2012). "'Delegitimization' of Israel a graver threat than war, former intelligence chief says". Times of Israel. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  22. ^ Thomas L. Friedman (5 September 1993). "Promised Land; Israel and the Palestinians See a Way to Co-Exist". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  23. ^ Daniel Bar-Tal (September 2004). "Delegitimization". Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  24. ^ "Obama Speech, Full Text". Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  25. ^ "President Obama 2012 AIPAC policy conference transcript". 4 March 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  26. ^ David A. Schwartz (20 November 2012). "Israel conflict draws reaction". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  27. ^ Lis, Jonathan (24 August 2010). "Livni: Delegitimization of Israel exacerbates other threats". Haaretz. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  28. ^ Emanuel Adler. Israel in the World: Legitimacy and Exceptionalism. Routledge, 2012. ISBN 0415624150 p. 1
  29. ^ Stacie E. Goddard. Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy. Cambridge University Press, 2009. pp. 18–20

External links