The three sacred words of US-Israeli rejectionism

I have a confession. I love the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. I can, and often do, read it for hours. It is a treasure trove, home to some of the best propaganda on the planet.

The MFA website is also home to the three sacred words. Words, which when uttered correctly, underpin decades of US-Israeli rejection of a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. With reverence and hushed tone, I will now utter them:

Concession. Intransigence. Precondition.

The first two are usually used together with the correct qualifiers, and become “Israeli concessions” and “Palestinian intransigence”. This is the discursive framework we use to characterise the history of “negotiations” in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel will bend over backwards to try to find a solution but the stubborn Palestinians stick to their guns.

“Preconditions” are what the Palestinians use to avoid negotiations. Preconditions like insisting Israel gives up its right to settle in Judea and Samaria. Preconditions like insisting that negotiations be based upon international law.

These words are important, as they represent textbook truth inversions; reality turned on its head, or what Orwell would have termed doublespeak.

When asked, Israel’s supporters are hard pressed to name an actual Israeli concession since 1948. I often get two examples thrown at me:

  • We “gave back Gaza” in the interests of peace.
  • We “gave back the Sinai” in the interests of peace.

Both examples ignore the obvious point that it is a fundamental principle of international law that it is inadmissible to acquire territory through war, therefore they were never Israeli territory to begin with. You will note that any time Israel observes international law, it is framed as a “concession”. 

As for “Palestinian intransigence”, this is the term we use when Palestinian negotiators ask for their legal entitlements under international law. Historically, this is a rare event. We’ve seen from the Palestine Papers the extraordinary concessions offered by the Palestinians, concessions, that were flatly rejected by Israel.

Using the framework of international law renders Israel’s use of these terms ridiculous. The only framework in which they make sense is the framework of Israel’s territorial aspirations.

The sacred word “precondition” is used in even more impressive ways, and again, the use of the term makes sense only if we use Israel’s territorial ambitions as the reference point. If we use international law as our reference point, it becomes plain that it is Israel demanding the preconditions.

Israel’s extreme preconditions were, until recently:

  • Israel must be allowed to continue violating international law and international humanitarian law during the negotiations.
  • Israel must be allowed to continue stealing Palestinian land during the negotiations.
  • Israel must be allowed to continue its policy of ethnic cleansing during the negotiations.

Preconditions so extreme, that no self respecting negotiator could claim to represent his people’s best interests were he to accept them.

To the enormous credit of Israeli propagandists, and to the enormous shame of the corporate media, Israel has managed to successfully portray their extreme preconditions as being Palestinian preconditions, rather than Israeli.

From the wonderful MFA website, I would like to quote the official Israeli position on preconditions for negotiations:

In Israel’s view, preconditions of this kind are counterproductive to peacemaking…

Peace talks should be used as an opportunity to solve differences, not to create new obstacles. Both the United States and Israel made [it] clear…that Israeli-Palestinian talks would be conducted without preconditions. While it is natural that both parties have complaints about the other’s actions, Israel does not use them as a threat to boycott talks

Making preconditions is a Palestinian tactic, not used by Israel.

Emphasis mine.

Above, I used the qualifier “until recently” when detailing Israel’s extreme preconditions. While Israel always uses preconditions, it usually maintains the propaganda to keep reality inverted. Following the recent announcement of reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh, and the proposed formation of a unity government, the US-Israel alliance has dropped all pretenses and jumped straight in with a (slightly familiar) set of extra preconditions:

  • Hamas must recognise Israel / Israel’s right to exist.
  • Hamas must renounce violence.

As well as contradicting their own stated policies, Israel’s new preconditions are feebly asymmetric.

  • The US-Israel alliance demands that Hamas renounce violence, but Israel most definitely should be allowed to indulge in routine violence.
  • The US-Israel alliance demands that Hamas recognises Israel, but the suggestion that Israel should recognise Palestine is just silly.

There has also been increased reference to Hamas’ notoriously anti-Semitic charter. Conspicuously absent is any reference to Likud’s charter, which commits the party to the destruction of Palestine. 

To be fair, the Likud charter has much prettier language, but the intent is clear. It calls for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank of Palestine and flatly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state, at least one West of the River Jordan. In essence, it is the way in which “civilised” states advocate wiping another nation off the map.

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{ 17 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Thank you Tim. Excellent teaching post, and a reminder of the power of language. You are obviously a connoisseur of fine propaganda, and have found some rare vintage at the IMFA website. BTW, are you this Tim Haughton? Hope to read more of your posts.

  2. annie says:

    excellent post

    To the enormous credit of Israeli propagandists, and to the enormous shame of the corporate media, Israel has managed to successfully portray their extreme preconditions as being Palestinian preconditions, rather than Israeli.

    i made this point just the other day in one of the threads when one of the hasbarists was making claims about palestinian preconditions claiming israel had none. i said israel had the precondition it be able to expand during ‘negotiations’. they’ve completely flipped the notion of what preconditions are. thanks for the great post.

  3. pjdude says:

    Israeli concession? I’m pretty sure that is an oxymoron.

  4. Robert767 says:

    Nicely put,I like the Counterpunch term for mainstream media:Fawning Corporate Media-FCM.I think really another term needs to be added:”generous offer”;as if Israel legally is in any position to “offer” anything except the keys to the illegal colonies as they stream back across the border.On a serious note I firmly believe that people with an interest in justice for Palestinians need always to use the appropriate terms ie:illegal colony,brutally oppressive illegal 44 year occupation,illegal colonists,illegal apartheid wall etc.

  5. Avi says:

    Speaking of propaganda and historical revisionism, The Independent’s, Catrina Stewart peddles the claim that Palestinians simply fled their villages in 1948.

    The editorial sub-heading reads as follows:

    Catrina Stewart visits an abandoned settlement, frozen in time 63 years ago, that may soon become a luxury housing development.

    Initially, I was a bit confused by the use of the noun “settlement”.

    But, after reading the first few sentences of the article, I quickly realized that the editor was purposely seeking to confuse readers by blurring the lines between a Jewish colony in the Israeli occupied West Bank — known in the corporate media as “settlements” — and Palestinian villages that had existed well before the 1900s.

    You see? They are both, “settlements”, so says The Independent.

    Then comes the blatant historical revisionism:

    [...] a life before 1948, the fateful year that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their ancestral homes during Israel’s war of independence, most of them never to return.

    Note the spin and obfuscation when Catrina Stewart claims:

    In 1947, a United Nations partition plan proposed to divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state with Jerusalem as an international city. The Arabs opposed the plan, and fighting erupted between the two sides as they scrambled for territory before the British Mandate expired.

    “The Arabs” — not to be confused with THE Jews — opposed the plan. That falls under the Rejectionists category.

    Then, Catrina Stewart of The Independent, goes on to claim that “fighting erupted” as “both sides [...]”

    Nevermind that a few days after the UN Partition was ratified — a partition that was ratified thanks to strong lobbying and arm-twisting courtesy of the powerful United States and a Zionist lobby — Zionist forces commenced ethnically cleansing entire Palestinian villages, well before May 1948 when Israel declared independence.

    Catrina Stewart goes on:

    The Palestinians describe the events that led to the creation of Israel as the Nakba, literally “catastrophe” in Arabic. By UN estimates, more than 750,000 Palestinians fled during fighting in 1947-1948, some to the West Bank, others further afield to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where most ended up in refugee camps that still exist today.

    You see, the “events” (Not the ethnic cleansing) that “led to the creation of Israel” (those anti-Semitic rejectionist Ay-rabs) are described by Palestinians as catastrophe.

    And again, the “Palestinians fled during the fighting” canard rears its ugly head.

    It is not until the very last paragraph, at the very bottom of the page, that The Independent and Catrina Stewart actually bothered to include some scholarly facts — as opposed to the Hasbara narrative pervasive throughout most of the article.

    link to

    • timhaughton says:

      Nice spot Avi. Hard to believe that Bob Fisk writes for the same paper isn’t it?

    • Miura says:

      Makes one realize why Victor Klemperer who famously analyzed LTI: Lingua Tertii Imperii wrote the following in his diary not long after the Nazis came to power:

      We hear a lot about Palestine now; it does not appeal to us. Anyone who goes there exchanges nationalism and narrowness for nationalism and narrowness.

  6. pabelmont says:

    As to “Mr. We have no pre-conditions Israel”, whatever happened to Israel’s PRIME PRE-CONDITION, a forever undivided Jerusalem? Hmm?

  7. lobewyper says:

    “Both examples ignore the obvious point that it is a fundamental principle of international law that it is inadmissible to acquire territory through war, therefore they were never Israeli territory to begin with. You will note that any time Israel observes international law, it is framed as a “concession”. ”

    Well, Tim, there have got to be at least a few advantages to being a “chosen people.”

  8. Citizen says:

    The Israeli government web site Tim links to has the key:

    PM Netanyahu responds to the Palestinian Authority-Hamas agreement
    27 Apr 2011
    The Palestinian Authority needs to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

    I think Bibi means Obama has to make that choice. Of course, Obama could decide not to go to Bibi’s opera. But Obama will go; he likes his POTUS perks, same way he likes to send his kids to private schools while extolling the virtues of public education.

  9. GuiltyFeat says:

    At the risk of sounding petty, your link to the Likud manifesto (not charter) is from the elections for the 15th Knesset in 1999. As a result of this manifesto, Likud lost power and Ehud Barak became Prime Minister. Just some context for you. Hamas, of course, swept into power with their charter fully intact.

    You can find a more up to date version of the Likud party’s ideals at their website

    It’s still pretty objectionable, but they no longer talk about Israel’s border being the Jordan river.

    Has the Hamas charter been updated in the past few years?

    • annie says:

      As a result of this manifesto, Likud lost power and Ehud Barak became Prime Minister.

      do you have any sources confirming it was as a result of this manifesto likud lost power?

    • talknic says:

      GuiltyFeat “Has the Hamas charter been updated in the past few years?”

      Has Israel stopped usurping the Palestinians in the last few years?

    • timhaughton says:

      Yes the current constitutions calls for the same thing, just in different language.

      Safeguarding the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as an eternal, inalienable right, working diligently to settle and develop all parts of the land of Israel, and extending national sovereignty to them.

      “The Land of Israel”, or “Eretz Yisrael” in typical current usage refers to the area of the British Mandate of Palestine. So when it calls for the extension of Israeli sovereignty to, and the settlement of, all of Palestine, we’re talking again about wiping Palestine off the map. And therefore being bordered by the Jordan River is implicit.

      Hamas hasn’t updated its charter, but it has said that it is irrelevant to the Hamas of today. I’m not aware of their politburo ever referring to it since being elected. Although I will gladly accept correction on that if anyone knows different.

  10. talknic says:

    The Lukid charter has no caveat.

    The Hamas charter has a caveat, never cited in the cherry pickings… link to

    Article Thirty-One: “As to those who have not borne arms against you on account of religion, nor turned you out of your dwellings, Allah forbiddeth you not to deal kindly with them, and to behave justly towards them; for Allah loveth those who act justly.” (The Tried – verse 8).

  11. lobewyper says:


    Great article! It reminds me in some ways of Norm Finkelstein’s discussion of Israeli “needs” vs. Palestinian “rights” available at this link:

    link to