On 29th January, 2004, the Israeli daily "Haaretz" published an article by Miron Benvenisti, in which he complains that peace has ceased to be a "desired commodity" in Israel. He claims that Israel is facing an unprecedented peace offensive by its neighbours: Syria gives the impression of adopting flexible policies with regard to Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights; the Saudis seem to renew a peace initiative that will not recognise the Palestinian "Right of Return"; Ghadhafi embraces surprisingly moderate positions; Egypt works tirelessly to achieve a cease-fire. Faced with such an offensive, it could have been expected of Israel to explore the feasibility of these peace proposals, rather than reject them with various excuses.
Benvenisti protests that despite the dramatic reduction in the price that Israel has to pay for peace, it is still unwilling to pay the price. What Benvenisti sees as a rejection of the peace vision, seems to me as a healthy awakening from a fantasy, which may be a vital stage leading to Israeli society's maturity. Not that I crave peace less than Benvenisti, but I have been trying for several years to make Israelis realise that peace is not a negotiable piece of property, but rather a basic right in modern international law. One should not have to pay for peace, just as there should be no fee to pay for the air we breathe.
International law decrees that every nation has the right to live in peace with its neighbours, secured not only from actual violence, but also from the threat of using force, even if there are conflicts between them. There can be a state of peace between nations, even when they have severe disputes, providing that both sides are willing to resolve them is peaceful ways, namely, without hostilities.
International relations, based on the UN Charter, are supposed to resemble the relations governed by each country's internal law. A state that resorts to aggression violates the law and commits crimes against peace and even against humanity. Any aggression is considered a breach of international law, but there are various degrees in their severity. Aggression with the intention to commit genocide is the most serious offence, similar to first degree murder in the internal law. In this respect, the aggression of the Arab countries and the Palestinians against Israel constitutes a crime of genocide, since their goal has always been to take over the land, as well as end all Jewish presence in this country.
Once war was deemed a criminal act by international law, there is no more need to anchor peace in treaties, as has been the case in the past. Peace pacts are now unnecessary, as shown in the case of Germany, which lives in peace with its neighbours although it has no peace treaties with them. Therefore, Israel's policy that strives to achieve peace accords with all Arab states, is based on a flawed understanding of international law. As long as Israel strives to achieve peace agreements, it will be under pressure to pay for them, as is the practice in any contractual relationship. Only if Israel understands that the right for peace is absolute and un-negotiable, it will be able to achieve peace without having to pay for it with its vital interests.
Israel must be aware that its right for peace and security carries a supreme constitutional status. As long as we believe that peace is "a commodity", the only open question would be how much we should pay for it with territories, return of refugees, control of Jerusalem and other vital assets. We have been so accustomed to the scared mantra of "land for peace", and to the concept that any political process that would not include withdrawal from territories constitutes a betrayal of the peace ideal itself - that we are unaware of the fallacy of this concept.
Unfortunately, Israel's indifference to the current peace initiatives does not reflect a rejection of the "land for peace" formula, but only a lack of faith in the other side's intention and capacity to deliver peace, even if it gets everything from us. If we only manage to liberate our minds from our false peace concepts, and adopt instead a bold position that peace is not a commodity which has to be paid for, we will then be able to embark on the road to true peace with our neighbours.
Elon Jarden, 5/February/2004
Advocate Elon Jarden has published 5 books on law and policy.