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November 25, 2014 11:15 am

Bernard-Henri Lévy: Israel, Palestine, and the French Legislature: ‘He Who Would Act the Angel, Acts the Brute’

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France's National Assembly. Photo: Wikipedia.

For nearly half a century I have favored the two-state solution. But I believe that the “unilateral recognition” of Palestine under consideration in the French parliament is a bad idea for three reasons.

1. Hamas.

Its charter and its agenda.

The fact that, for the time being at least, Hamas administers one of the two territories that make up the state that supposedly must be recognized immediately and with great fanfare. The fact that Hamas’s doctrine is that Israel must be destroyed.

One does not recognize, even symbolically, a state in which half of the government denies another state’s right to exist.

One does not recognize, especially not symbolically, a government in which half of the ministers dream of annihilating that state.

One extends a hand to its people, of course. One provides help. One supports and reinforces the other party, that of Mahmoud Abbas, and encourages it to break the unnatural alliance into which it has entered. But as long as that alliance remains intact; as long as Hamas remains Hamas; as long as a part of the state that one is preparing to recognize recognizes itself in a charter that orders all Muslims to come out from “behind the rocks and trees” where they are “hiding” to “kill … Jews” (article 7 of the charter); as long as Hamas professes (article 13) that “the supposed initiatives” and “peaceful solutions,” such as the current proposal in France, that would “settle the Palestinian question” are contrary to the faith, one must defer recognition.

2. The timing.

The worldwide rise of jihadism.

And the fact that the Palestinian political class and, alas, its civil society (not just Hamas), seem once again to be unclear on the question.

I am not referring to Mahmoud Abbas, who condemned the November 18 attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem that left five people dead.

But I am referring to his allies in the PFLP who took credit for it. I am referring to the Islamic Jihad and, again, Hamas, which praised it.

And I am thinking of those thousands of young people who, as soon as the news became known, came out into the streets to light fireworks and celebrate.

One day, perhaps, a majority of Israelis may come to believe that the least bad form of protection against this situation is a clean break. But that will be their decision, not the decision of a Spanish, English, Swedish, or, now, French parliament improvising a hasty, ill-founded, and, above all, inconsequential resolution.

One cannot be horrified at the decapitations in Iraq and then dismiss murders with knives and hatchets in Israel.

One cannot, at one moment, reject the rhetoric of excuses (“those who have gone to fight in Syria are lost souls, victims of social malaise…”) and, the next moment, indulge in it (“the killer was humiliated, a victim of the occupation…”).

One cannot, with the right hand, strengthen the legislative arsenal that makes it possible for Europe or the United States to combat blind violence, then, with the left, approve a resolution that basically says “we understand” to aficionados of the ram raid hoping for a third Intifada.

There will be a state in Gaza and Ramallah. That is in Israel’s interest and it is the Palestinians’ right. But our involvement is justified only if we demand equal effort from both parties. From South Africa’s ANC to the Kurdish PKK, and including Menachem Begin’s Irgun, history is full of terrorist organizations that changed their tactics and spirit. We are waiting for Palestinian groups to follow the same path—and it is toward that goal that men and women of good will in France and elsewhere should work.

3. Because this is the essence of the problem.

No honest observer can ignore the fact that both sides have a long way to go.

No advocate of peace denies that between the governments in Jerusalem, which, from Rabin to  Netanyahu, have never renounced the settlements policy, and a Palestinian leadership that has oscillated between accepting Israel as a fact and rejecting any Jewish presence on Arab land, there is blame enough to go around.

But that is precisely what the proponents of unilateral recognition deny.

It is very precisely what they forget when they go around saying “we can’t take anymore of this” and “it is urgent that things move forward,” or that a “strong gesture” is needed in order to “apply pressure” and “unblock the situation,” and that no better “strong gesture” can be found than to impose on Netanyahu a non-negotiated Palestinian state.

And that points to the last critique to be laid against them: Their reasoning presupposes that there is only one blockage (the Israeli one) and only one party that needs to be pressured (Israel), and that nothing needs to come from the Palestinian camp—literally nothing: Stay put; take no initiative; whatever you do, do not demand the revocation of a Hamas charter that drips with hate for Jews and contempt for international law—because, hey, now you have your state.

It is hard to tell which is greater in this case: hostility to Israel, contempt for the Palestinians, or lack of seriousness. But one thing is certain. Without shared responsibility, there will be no shared land. By excusing one side from its historical and political burden, we may believe that we are seeking peace; in fact, we are perpetuating war.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New Philosophy movement and is a leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and international affairs. His 2013 book, Les Aventures de la vérité—Peinture et philosophie: un récit, explores the historical interplay of philosophy and art. His new play, “Hotel Europe,” which premiered in Sarajevo on June 27, 2014, and in Paris on September 9, is a cry of alarm about the crisis facing the European project and the dream behind it.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy

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  • elixelx

    Henri, If the reasons for NOT recognising “Palestine” are SO obvious, SO cogent, SO rational…WHY ARE THE EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS GOING AHEAD WITH IT ANYWAY?
    a) They are half/dim wits
    b)They think that the problem will go away
    c)They have calculated that doing so will force Israel into racist, anti-democratic stances and make Israelis the New Nazis
    d)They are subconsciously anti-semitic, using Israel as a bludgeon against Jews
    What they cannot understand is that Medinat Israel (the Secular State of Israel) and Eretz Zion (the Religious Land of Zion) are ONE, SINGULAR ENTITY.
    Medinat and Eretz can no more be separated from each other than can body from soul, to be criticised, loved, judged as ONE SINGULAR ENTITY.
    This is the quintessence of the YIHUD (the JEW, the ONE)
    NO European/Christian bureaucrat can conceive of such a Oneness. The Muslims can and it terrorises them.
    ONENESS–it is why we will continue to be here long long after these dim-wit “statesmen” have gone to their Judgement

  • Regrettably Hamas bad doesn’t make corrupt, despotic, serial inciter of violence, 10 years into his 4 year term Abbas good. Fatah vs. Abbas is not a case of the right vs. the wrong but of the bad vs. the worse.

  • I agree with Allen ,z, Herz. The PLO was offered 97% of their demands and Arafat rejected it. Clinton was shocked and dismayed , clearly blame the Palesinians..I wish Geremie Smith to live between radical Islamist,as he would like Israel to be . As any Palesinian state will be, after a state is created Hamas will take over .

  • Robert Davis

    Apart from the fact europe’s analysis is HYPOCRITICAL because no matter how stupid they are they cannot belive that forcing 2 people who hate each other can live in such a small space can lead to peace, I say WHO ARE THOSE ASSES WHO HAVE THE GUTS TO SAY A THING LIKE “WE CANNOT TAKE ANY LONGER THIS OR THAT” REGARDING A NATION THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY??? Apart from the fact Israel’s rights on this land is based on INTERNATIONAL LAW BINDING TREATIES LIKE SAN REMO,SEVRES TREATIES,ARTICLE 80 OF UN CHART etc. they have no right to impose anyting like a DIKTAT NOR INTERFERE IN ISRAEL S POLITICS NOR USE COERCITION : this is a 6 times ILLEGAL STAND! If they are wasting so much time,credibility and money on such a political stand it is not obviously for “peace” sake but to show they are still a great power which is not the case anywhere but hope that thanks to left wing useful idiuots they will make it against Israel. If they consider recognizing such a scoundrel,riff raff, scum state is a …SYMBOL TO THEM IT MEANS THAT THEY REPRESENT SCOUNDRELS AND THEREFORE ARE SCOUNDRELS THEMSELVES!!!

  • dante

    pretty disappointing commentary. embarrassing, really. so, here’s some news, bernard (obviously, it’s news to you): abbas is unwilling to reconcile himself to a Jewish state; he is unwilling to stop anti-Jewish incitement; he is unwilling to stop honoring terrorist-murderers (yes, he offered a hedged condemnation of one terrorist atrocity, after he was coerced to do so by Secy Kerry); he is unwilling to create a constituency for peace among his people (perhaps, by telling them that the Jews have an ancient history in the land, more ancient, by far, than that of the Arabs); he is unwilling to deny pensions, stipends, subsidies, etc. for people whose only “achievement” has been murder and mayhem. so, the fundamental problem with bernard’s view is that he suffers the too-common delusion that abbas wants peace with the Jews. yes, when abbas is contrasted with the unabashed savages that run gaza, he appears vaguely like a homo sapien. yeah, he wears a suit and he doesn’t generally foam at the mouth. but to see him as a homo sapien is the product of illusion or wishful thinking. oh, bernard, another piece of news for you: the “settlements” (including those in Israel’s capital FROM WHICH, IN THE AREAS CAPTURED BY THE TRANS-JORDAN, EVERY SINGLE JEW WAS EXPELLED)have little or nothing to do with the determined and unrelenting “palestinian” enmity; that enmity arises from a fanatical hatred and a determination to supplant Israel and the Jews. you can make abbas your “great white hope” if you want, but it’s just another dangerous delusion, little different from the pathologies that you often condemn.

  • For nearly half a century Mr. Henti Levy favored the two-state solution. Now, he is slowly waking up from his long leftist slumber, rubbing his eyes. And what does he see?

    1. That Palestinians have “the right” to establish a state in Ramallah.
    2. That Jewish “settlements” are to blame.
    3. That Mahmoud Abbas exonerated himself by (oh, so briefly and under pressure from John Kerry)condemning the attacks on the Har Nof synagogue.

    Well, it’s still early morning in Mr. Henri-Levy’s universe. Give him another ten years and, who knows, by lunch time, he may start to understand reality.

  • Richard Kirschenbaum

    The Jews gave France Andre Citroen and Marcel Bloch, the equivalent of Henry Ford and William Boeing.

    Yet they enthusiastically helped the Nazis implement the holocaust.
    One of the great automobile designers of the age, Georges Paulin and a member of the resistance was betrayed by the Vichy collaborators which led to his murder by the Nazis.

    Indeed the SNCF (the French National Railways sought payment for transporting Jews) to the death camps up through the 1970s.

    Their latest manipulations are hardly a surprise.

  • AKUS

    “No honest observer can ignore the fact that both sides have a long way to go.

    No advocate of peace denies that between the governments in Tel Aviv, which, from Rabin to Netanyahu, have never renounced the settlements policy, and a Palestinian leadership that has oscillated between accepting Israel as a fact and rejecting any Jewish presence on Arab land, there is blame enough to go around.”

    Henri, I have long admired your work, specially your book about the murder of Daniel Pearl.


    A good start for an honest observer, or at least one versed in the facts, would be to accept that the Israeli government sits in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.

  • AKUS

    “3. Because this is the essence of the problem.

    No honest observer can ignore the fact that both sides have a long way to go.”

    Henri, I have long admired your work, specially your book about the murder of Daniel Pearl.


    A good start for an honest observer, or at least one versed in the facts, would be to accept that the Israeli government sits in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.

  • Who is the occupier here in this situation? Israel or the people of Palestine?
    Lets answer that with one question

    All those in Palestine are born in what country? Any one born in the lands of Palestine?
    Not one leader was sired in the land of Palestine. Just look at their documents and there will be your answer.
    Who are the squatters? Ever see a Palestinian help a jew from Tel Avi?
    Ever see a jew help a person from Palestine?
    These questions will give you your answer. All the rest is rhetoric

    • Reply to PJ Wilcox:

      You are deeply confused about the concept of “peoplehood” which you simplistically equate with birthplace. But catering to your misguided obsession with birthplace, it must be stressed that 73% (2012) of the total Jewish population there was actually born right there between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This having been said, let’s try to think a bit more about what is a people, namely “a People in history.”

      Linguists theorize about a proto-Semitic language which perhaps suggests some kinship among prehistoric Semitic-speakers, long before the birth of the Hebrew language (Biblical Hebrew: “yahudit” ) and the religion of Judaism. But “peoplehood” is about much more than just genetics. It is also a complex sociological phenomenon and, as such, an abstraction and mostly a cultural invention. Nonetheless, peoplehood is one of the principal motors of world history.

      Opting to self-identify consistently as a specific People, a human population takes a particular name (e.g., יהודים”Ž Yehudim = Jews) and shares a variable range of relatively distinct civilizational features, for example — ancestors, history, homeland, territory, language, literature, religion, culture, economy and institutions. And in addition to such subjective identity, a People normally attracts objective identity in the eyes of its friends and enemies, who from each succeeding century provide us with valuable historical evidence about its existence and characteristics.

      Critical is this reference to subjective and objective evidence from each successive period. For example, a People cannot today claim to be aboriginal, solely by virtue of some recently alleged genetic descent from a culturally remote or unrelated ancient People with a different name. Today turning to antiquity to make an aboriginal claim in its own name, a modern People needs to show not its genetic roots, but rather a continuing socio-cultural identity that reaches back across each century to the relevant historical time.

      Logically, a current People cannot now make an aboriginal claim in its own name with respect to historical periods before its own ethnogenesis, i.e. when it did not yet self-identify as that particular People. By the same reasoning, a distinct People’s right to national self-determination cannot be claimed in its own name so as to retroactively apply in an historical period prior to its own ethnogenesis.

      And to be sure, human populations sometimes rebrand with new self-identifications that are normally politically meaningful. Thus, a new People emerges from time to time; while an older People may significantly subdivide or disappear — in most cases, with genes and cultural characteristics partly persisting in populations of one or more other Peoples.

      So, which People is “the” aboriginal People between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea? Among the distinct, self-identified Peoples now living in a country or region, the one with the best claim to be “aboriginal” is the People which was there first in time. Without reference to numbers, this now existing aboriginal People is distinguished from the other current local Peoples which subsequently either were formed in the land (indigenous) or came there via conquest, migration and settlement.

      For example, the Indian tribes in Canada are commonly called “the First Nations.” They are still the aboriginal Peoples there, even though some of these tribes now number only a few hundred individuals. Their status as “first in time” is not lost because they are now just a fraction of Canada’s population.

      Like the First Nations, the Jewish People for more than two millennia has always had the strongest claim to be “the” aboriginal People in its ancestral homeland — though for most of those centuries, Jews there were but a small percentage of the inhabitants. Nor is this persistent Jewish claim to be “the” aboriginal People there weakened because the majority of Jews have at various times lived elsewhere.

    • Robert Davis

      oF COURSE BUT THE FIRST THING TO ASK IS / who are those foreign governements who want sobadly to interfere AND EVEN IMPOSE A diktat BY COERCISION ON ISRAEL? The 2 reasons for that situation are : 1. Israel’s govt.never claims ts sovereighnty nor works for the sole interests of its citizens but …for both its citizens and…their enemies! No other govt.does such a stupidity. 2. Israel’s left wing who does not understand the political situation apart from a minority of coimmunist fanatics who want to make Israel PAY for not choosing communism. The others are useful IDIOTS!

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    With all of the intensely provoking problems French Jews have to deal with, I have to wonder why in the world would such a renowned intellectual as you desire to wander into a conflict that you have shied away from in physical reality. I have spent the better part of my adult life back and forth between Israel and the States and have respectfully held most of my advice for the Israeli leadership to myself until I finally moved here permanently last December. Before I would seriously take the advice of even a famous well-meaning Jew living in the Diaspora as he or she tries to tell my government how to act, what to say, what is important for the people living in Israel’ and how Israel should act vi-a-vis its neighbours, the Palestinians or the Arabs living in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, I would ask this Jew to seriously consider living here and adding his or her views along with those of the Israeli citizenry who by the way have recently endured a 50-day war and a slew of terrorist attacks. Mr. Levy, I am speaking to you not disrespectfully and please do not comprehend that my words are meant to be disrespectful. They are articulated from a man who has made a life-changing decision to share my destiny with our people–one-half of world Jewry–in our homeland.

    • Max

      Mr. Bernard Henri Levy is critical of the French parliament for its motion to unilaterally recognise the so-called state of palestine. In doing so, Mr. Henri Levy is sympathetic toward Israel’s just cause. I fail to see why Yoel Nitzarim has a problem with that.

      I too am Jewish and live in the Diaspora in the U. S. I have been an ardent backer of Israel, visited a number of times and am proud of everything Israel has accomplished over the years. Does Mr Nitzarim contend that I and millions of other Jews who feel like me have no right to comment publicly on the matter? Does Mr. Nitzarim realize that thousands of Jews in Europe live in fear these days because of anti-semitic attacks and that hundreds of Jewish students in American universities are constantly harassed nowadays by mobs of Arab students and other anti-semites just because they are Jewish. Believe it or not Mr. Nitzarim, we are all in this together, whether we live in Israel or the Diaspora.

    • Robert Davis

      Sorry but BHL in this case is just giving an advice and why the heckle should he not have the right to say what he THINKS? DOES HE NEED TO LIVE IN ISRAEL TO HAVE THE RIGHT TO THINK? You may not be disrespectful as you say but your opinion in this case is TOTALITARIAN. I do not go along with BHL but I recognize him the right to THINK as he pleases AND THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GEOGRAPHY. On top of this since evidently the only way for Israel to SURVIVE is to expel those arabs since all other “proposals” are meant only to destroy Israel,by not doing the right thing which would immediatly stop the conflict,Israel’s people and putting french and other jews at great peril since they are arabs’ and the french govt.’s HOSTAGES! The least would be for Israelis to listen to us!!!

  • Jérémie Smith

    (1) Recognition of Palestine is clearly associated with Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas, and is a mean for European governments to support his (peaceful) politics. To say that Hamas is “half of the government” is to misrepresent the truth : the presidency and the government are lead by Fatah politicans, and the Hamas ministers are bureaucrats, not real politicians.
    (2) Timing? Are you serious? The peace process is dead, Netanyahu is building settlements at an increasing rate, 2000 Palestinians died in Gaza this year, there are riots in Jerusalem… and we should wait the end of jihadism?… Given the region’s instability, there will always be a good excuse to postpone the recognition of Palestine. Moreover, the rise of jihadism is certainly a good argument to support Abbas’ diplomacy, secular Fatah and peace with Israel.
    (3) Yes, recognition of Palestine is a symbolic way for Europeans to express their frustrations regarding Netanyahu’s policies. To say that there are faults on both sides is a cliché. Of course, that cannot be always true. And this time, Israel is the most responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process.

    • Reply to Jeremie Smith: On all three points, your presentation lacks objectivity and is seriously flawed, perhaps from some peculiar partisan bias. However, just for purposes of argument, let us presume that there are soon some key developments directly based on your specific, highly-ideologized interpretations of the current situation there. If so, I sincerely believe that, flowing from your three particular presumptions, comes still more violence than at present. Your contribution includes the word “peace.” Do you seriously mean the absence of violence or rather something else? Reduction or absence of conflict there is not something that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jews worldwide could reasonably expect from your skewed approach to the matter, as laid out in your three points. For 1400 years, Muslims and Arabs have persistently discriminated against Mideast Jews who were also the sorry victims of periodic rounds of outright persecution at the hands of Muslims and Arabs. Make no mistake, nothing you have on offer in your three points is going to end the Muslim and Arab war against the Jewish People and Israel.

    • Robert Davis

      Palestine is the Jews land and there are several treaties to support it by international law. Apart from that WHO are you or europeans to speak of “frustration”??? Jews have taken no one’s land and even if they had,did they take france or belgium or sweden? THEN SHUT UP you have neither the right nor ANY REASON TO BE “FRUSTRATED”. You are an antisemit HYPOCRIT who is looking for a pretence to take on Israel and do all youcan to destroy it thru politics after failing to do so by war! All I can say to people like you is GO TO HELLYOU WILL GET NOTHING THIS WAY EXCEPT KEEP LOOSING CREDIBILITY AND REPRESENT A SCOUNDREL S TRU SUCH A RECOGNITION IE PROVE YOU ARE A SCOUNDREL YOURSELF!

    • Robert Davis

      smith : how can europe which is not a party in the mid east be “frustrated”? it is not frustrated because there is “no peace” but because europe cannot push into Israel’s throat its diktat so Israel can be destroyed if it can be persuaded not to defend itself. Evidently europe has become Israel’s number 1 enemy and should be a party in this war in this case.This is a case of casus belli from europe. Did you hear about NUKE SUITCASES? If justice for Israel cannot be obtained by expelling arabs because of european incessant meddling,I would not be surprised if europe is destroyed by terrorists. This european meddling MUST stop immediately if europe does not want to be considered a HOSTILE PARTY AND PAY FOR IT.

    • Jeremie Smith, Don’t sweat the distinction between Abbas and Hamas; they are both Jew haters and publicly admit it. Hamas admits in both English and Arabic, Abbas puts on a ‘polite’ face in English and only admits his Jew hatred in Arabic – there is your difference.
      A couple of more important points: Israel is the sovereign state over all the land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan as established by the Treaty of San Remo (1920) and the ‘British Mandate for Palestine” by the League of Nations (1922) that initially included Jordan which was split off in 1923 to ‘appease’ the Arabs. Jordan (77% of what had been Palestine under the Ottoman Empire), is therefore the Palestinian state. What other people do you know that claim they need two states??? So, get off the settlement issue. First of all these are legitimate housing projects benefiting Jews and Arabs, on sovereign Israeli soil. Besides, they are just an excuse, since the Arabs made war on the Jews from before there even was a Jewish State; before there were refugees, before there was ‘occupation.’ Any person capable of logical thinking must come to the conclusion that these ‘arguments’ are nothing but red herrings. Lastly, the Arabs have made five wars, three intifadas and innumerable terrorist acts by whatever name, upon Israeli citizens . . they lost every time . . and THEY want to dictate their terms of a peace agreement??
      Name one precedent in recorded history where the vanquished dictated terms to the victors, if you can.
      So, let’s step back from the lies that try to re-write history by dint of endless repetition and return to the basic facts: the powers that were, in 1917 through 1922, have seen fit to let the Jews establish a Jewish homeland in their ancestral land of Israel. The Jews haven’t stolen any land. It is theirs by International Law. If people only knew history, the liars would not have such an easy time to promulgate a totally false narrative.

      • stephen ballantine

        Kitty Fane- it appears that you are adverse to a little ‘revisionism’ yourself. You consistently mis-state the true impact/effect of San Remo/League of Nations. Even if they did in fact purport to do what you write- who gave them the authority to transfer ownership of land. Has the UN purported to do so before/since/Errr no it hasn’t.