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Susie Linfield on How to Think About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Posted on Jun 5, 2009
But in Israel, very little of the peace camp (or of socialist Zionism) remains. Morris, like virtually all Israelis of whatever political tendency, was shocked by the viciousness of the second intifada, in which suicide bombers targeted Israeli civilians as they rode on buses, sat in cafes, attended Passover seders; and shocked, too, by the way in which these murderers were cheered on, with nary a dissenting voice, by their Palestinian compatriots and the larger Arab world. (Indeed, one of the most depressing themes to emerge from Morris’ research is the way in which Palestinian irredentists have always regarded the Israeli peace camp—not the Israeli right—as their enemy. The Oslo Accords were met by a furious spate of terrorist attacks from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the Likud’s surprise 1996 victory over Labor—preceded by an “unprecedentedly savage, concentrated Muslim fundamentalist terrorist offensive”—reportedly resulted in “celebrations in the headquarters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.”) The subsequent rejection by Yasser Arafat of the 2000 Camp David and, then, Clinton proposals—along, Morris says, with his more recent research into the consistent rejectionism of the pre-1948 Palestinian leadership—has led him to abandon even the most circumscribed hopes for a political resolution. In 2002, he published an article in the Guardian of London pithily, hopelessly titled “Peace? No Chance.”
Up to here, Morris’ political journey from optimism to despair is like that of many others. (I recently heard an equally pessimistic talk given by the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit, also a man of the left.) But Morris has also gone in directions that are very much his own, at least given the background from which he emerged. In a series of interviews, the most striking of which was given to the newspaper Haaretz in 2004, Morris criticized David Ben-Gurion for getting “cold feet during the  war” and for the “non-completion” of the expulsions of Arabs; and he struck an ugly, wrathful tone (in sharp contrast to the dispassion of his scholarly work), likening Palestinians to serial killers for which “something like a cage has to be built.” These remarks stunned many Israelis and isolated Morris from his former comrades; The New York Times followed the Haaretz interview with a piece on Morris titled “An Israeli Who’s Got Everybody Outraged.” Last July, Morris wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Times in which he predicted—wrongly, thankfully, as it transpired—that “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months.”
Morris has said that he still believes in the justice of a two-state solution—but not in the likelihood that it will come to pass. And indeed, between Israel’s Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu (whom Morris had, years before, described as “Israel’s most incompetent—and mendacious—prime minister”), Hamas’ Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyah, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he may well be right. (Aside from Lieberman, each opposes a two-state solution.) Is it possible to envision a more appalling, dangerous, utterly dismal group of “leaders”? All these guys scare me.
“One State, Two States” is most valuable in delineating the history of the binational idea —which (unlike uni-national one-stateism) has virtually no support among Israelis or Palestinians who actually live in the Mideast, though it has become the darling of certain leftist intellectuals who dwell in the relatively pacific and presumably more enlightened confines of London, New York and Paris. Morris writes that Tony Judt’s 2003 piece in The New York Review of Books called “Israel: The Alternative” “spawned a host of articles and books advocating the one-state solution” and, in a sense, allowed one-staters (including those who do not advocate binationalism) to come out of the closet. But Morris—as historian—has no patience with those who have constructed an era of congenial Arab-Jewish relations in pre-1948 Palestine, calling this prelapsarian idyll “a whopper of truly gargantuan dimensions. … In general, British Mandate Palestine … was characterized by two separate societies that did not interact or live ‘together,’ except in the sense of sharing the same air and complaining about the same, or different, British officials.” And why should it have been otherwise? The Jews, fleeing persecution, wanted to establish as many settlements as possible, which meant buying as much land from (often absentee) Arab landowners; the Arab peasants, naturally, resented the resulting dislocations. In addition, the two communities could not have been more different in the cultural and social realms. And the political one, too: In the 1920s, Palestinian nationalists complained to the British that the Zionist immigrants included too many of the “ ‘Bolshevik revolutionary type.’ ” (This complaint is, weirdly, echoed in the Hamas charter, which castigates Jews for, among many other things, having “stirred” the French and Russian revolutions.)
Binationalists like to point to Jewish intellectuals such as Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and—maybe—Hannah Arendt for support. But binationalist advocacy existed on the very fringe of the Zionist movement, and binational organizations such as Brit Shalom and Agudat Ihud had only handfuls of adherents. As the violence on each side increased, that fringe essentially disintegrated; the murder of 78 Jewish doctors and nurses in 1948, for instance, “was in effect the final nail in the coffin of Magnes’s binationalism,” Morris writes. For the Arab leadership in Palestine and the surrounding countries, binationalism wasn’t on the margins of political discourse but, rather, almost nonexistent; its few Jewish adherents “could find no Arab partners, or even interlocutors.” (This is still true today; as the Palestinian sociologist Salim Tamari wrote almost a decade ago, “Not one Palestinian political group, not even minority ones, have adopted binationalism as an objective. … All the major Islamic groups find it an anathema. … The idea raised by the PLO in the late 1960s and early 1970s of a secular democratic state of Jews, Christians, and Muslims was never put forward seriously except as a slogan.”) Morris writes that the few Palestinian intellectuals who dared mention binationalism have often been murdered as traitors by their less accommodationist brethren.
Binationalism was, in other words, a nonstarter from the first. But to have had any chance at all, as Palestinian intellectual Albert Hourani said in 1946, it would require “a certain spirit of cooperation and trust” and “an underlying sense of unity to neutralize communal differences. But that spirit does not exist in Palestine.” To say that such a spirit still does not exist in Palestine would be a radical, indeed unforgivable, understatement. Put most bluntly: Israelis and Palestinians have been slaughtering each other’s children for decades; for entirely good reasons, they regard each other with fear and loathing, and the idea of forcing them together into a “nation” is grotesque.
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