The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Exist

The US/Israeli policy of divide-and-conquer, employed to destroy the democratic government of the Palestinian Authority, has included the claim that Hamas is unacceptable as a party in that government because it refuses to accept Israel’s “right to exist.”

Noam Chomsky said four years ago,

“In effect, the US and Israel are demanding that Palestinians not only recognize Israel in the normal fashion of interstate relations, but also formally accept the legitimacy of their expulsion from their own land. They cannot be expected to accept that, just as Mexico does not grant the US the ‘right to exist’ on half of Mexico’s territory, gained by conquest … I suspect that this demand was contrived to bar the possibility of a political settlement in accord with the international consensus that the US and Israel have rejected for thirty years … Israel and a new Palestinian state should be accorded the rights of all states in the international system, no more, no less. That option will soon be excluded, if the US and Israel continue to carry out the development projects in the occupied territories in such a way as to render the Palestinian region a ‘permanent neo-colonial dependency’ — the goal of the ‘peace process,’ according to Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s chief negotiator. “

As the United States celebrates with parades and fireworks the splendid rejection of colonial dependency by the Continental Congress (a far less democratic assembly than the Palestinian Authority) in July of 1776, we should recall that America as a political society is founded on the rejection of an occupying power’s right to exist. The central argument of the Declaration of Independence is that a state may be said to have a right to exist only on one condition: “Governments are instituted … to secure … certain unalienable rights, [including] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson’s text asserts that “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” And, although we may tend to forget it, this principle has been reasserted in American history, even at surprising times. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln pointed out that a country belongs to the people who inhabit it. “Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

The Declaration of Independence is a renunciation of a state that, it was asserted, had forfeited its right to exist. It is a bill of particulars, meant to show how that forfeit had come about (and it can certainly be argued how well it makes the case). But the principle is clear — a government has a right to exist, according to American doctrine, only when it works to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” (in the words of the 1787 organic law of the Second Republic of the United States). If it does not work towards these things — especially if it actively works against them — it has no such right.

Given that Israel is the US government’s principal client and its “local cop on the beat” in the Middle East (in the words of the Nixon administration), we must ask if the government of Israel satisfies this condition in regard to the people it rules over — more than ten million between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The answer is obvious. Like the government of the former apartheid state of South Africa, it works in the interests of only a minority of those inhabitants — and is destructive of the rights of the others — so in neither case can the state be said to have a right to exist, according to the Declaration of Independence. (There’s a further difficulty: all states, whether democracies or dictatorships, are the states of their inhabitants, as Lincoln noted — except the state of Israel: by law, Israel declares itself the state not of its inhabitants but of the Jewish people world-wide.)

In US/Israeli propaganda on this issue, there is always a covert sliding about between the existence of a regime and the physical existence of a people. Only in the case of Israel are they equated, and not innocently. That is the point of the famous remark attributed to Israeli diplomat Abba Eban: “One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all.”

A recent example of this malign ambage is the purposeful mistranslation of the Iranian president’s words, as described by Arash Norouzi in “Caught Red-Handed: Media Backtracks on Iran’s ‘Threat’“:

For close to two years, the media has stubbornly clung to a long discredited story about the Iranian president’s alleged threat to “destroy Israel” with nuclear weapons Iran doesn’t have and denies any intent to acquire. “Wiped off the map, wiped off the map,” they bleat incessantly, even though his actual words, “The Imam [Khomenei] said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” were paralleled with the fall of regimes like the Soviet Union and Iran’s former U.S.-installed monarchy…

The Fourth of July is an appropriate time for us to recall that the United States is founded on the principle that no regime has a right to exist.

Carl Estabrook a retired visiting professor at the University of Illinois and host of the weekly radio program “News from Neptune“. He can be reached at