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A rights-based yet political approach to peace-making in Israel/Palestine

By Jeff Halper - posted Thursday, 12 March 2009

Appeals to universal human rights define the approach to peace-making adopted by ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and any other, we would argue - human rights provide the only basis for a just, workable and lasting peace. Only a human rights approach encompasses the needs, claims and concern of both peoples.

But what is a human “right”? First of all, it is a condition so fundamental to one’s very humanness that it defines us as human beings. Resting on the principle of human dignity, human rights assert that a life lived in their absence is not a life worthy of a human being. Your human rights are therefore inalienable, universal and extralegal.

Everyone has the same fundamental rights. They cannot be taken from you, nullified, denied or compromised by laws or government policies. On the contrary, governments, armies and any other organ of power, together with their officials, are absolutely obligated to respect them. That means that you are entitled to your rights. You don’t simply have them; you also have the right to demand them.


Ultimately, the goal is that every person simply enjoys his or her fundamental human rights as a normal part of life, without having to even assert or claim them. And since we all live in groups whose well-being are inseparable from our own - families and local communities; ethnic, religious and national groups; gender and age affiliations and many more - they also possess fundamental rights, such as the right of a people to self-determination.

Based on these principles, ICAHD’s approach to ending Israel’s Occupation, achieving a just and viable resolution for the Palestinians and settling once and for all the Israel-Palestine conflict can be broken into three parts:

Recognition of mutual national rights

Any constructive approach to the conflict must begin with the proposition that two peoples reside in Israel/Palestine, each having a collective right to self-determination. Regardless of whether you accept Zionist claims and even the legitimacy of Israel itself, and regardless of whether you recognize the existence of a Palestinian people and their claims to the country, the irreducible de facto existence of two national groups in the same homeland requires us to start from this position. Later, once a political solution has been achieved, processes of reconciliation which acknowledge past injustices and permit peaceful coexistence can take place.

The achievability of a rights-based solution

Once the right of each people to pursue self-determination in Israel/Palestine has been accepted, the actual obstacles to a just peace become obvious. So in our human rights approach:

The conflict is political and therefore has a political solution. Israel constantly argues there is no political solution because of them; there is no Palestinian partner for peace because, well, they’re Arabs. A rights-based approach rejects such attempts to de-politicise conflicts, to blame others for not being rational or belonging to unacceptable “civilisations”. It asserts that every conflict is resolvable. As long as everyone’s human rights are protected, enmity and oppression can be controlled until such a time as a solution emerges. Certainly attempts to make oppression permanent, as in Israel’s attempt to keep the Palestinians under occupation forever, cannot succeed.

Israel’s Occupation lies at the centre of the conflict. For more than 20 years the Palestinians have accepted a two-state solution in which Israel remains on 78 per cent of historic Palestine. Israel has not responded because it seeks territorial expansion based on settlement and control. Rather than being defensive in nature, Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories, which violate international law, are pro-active. They are also illegal, since the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an Occupying Power from taking any steps to make its Occupation permanent - such as building settlements.


Security is a legitimate Israeli concern, but Israel is not fighting for its existence. Israel’s integrity as a state is guaranteed in international law just as that of every other recognised state. The Palestinians, who by formally and repeatedly accepting the two-state solution have therefore accepted Israel’s sovereignty. Indeed, their entire Arab League in 2002 offered Israel formal recognition, peace and regional integration in return for the Occupied Territories. The only party truly endangering Israeli security is Israel itself. By constantly strengthening its Occupation and launching frequent attacks on its neighbours, it is forfeiting both its security and the two-state solution. If, as seems to be the case, Israel has eliminated any possibility of a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state, it will find itself faced with the demand to transform itself and the Occupied Territories into a single state of all its residents, Jews and Palestinians together.

Since all attacks on civilians are prohibited under international law, both Palestinians and Israelis must refrain from attacking non-combatants. It must be noted, however, that Israel has killed many times more Palestinian civilians than the other way around, making it guilty of State Terrorism. For that Israel must be held accountable under international law.

Israel is a major regional superpower and the strong party in the conflict, as well as the Occupying Power. (Palestinians are not, after all, occupying Tel Aviv.) As such it is the only party that can end the conflict, and must be compelled to do so by the international community. If governments will not act, the people - civil society - must pressure them to do so.

The solution

If self-determination is the principle underlying a rights-based solution, then only two legitimate options are available. Either a viable and sovereign Palestinian state must emerge alongside the state of Israel or, if not, a single state - either democratic or bi-national - must emerge in all Israel/Palestine. Third options, be they apartheid or the elimination of Israel, are ruled out.

Again, a rights-based solution is a win-win one. It alone is capable of achieving a just, sustainable and genuine resolution to the conflict.

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Jeff Halper will be speaking in Brisbane on March 16, 2009 at the Undumbi Room, Parliament House from 6-8pm. More information about other venues around Australia can be found at

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About the Author

Jeff Halper is director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. His latest book is An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (Pluto Press, 2008).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jeff Halper

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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