Amos Oz’ Dangerous Detachment from Reality

The Annapolis conference has brought out the same voices who cling stubbornly to beliefs that were proven wrong by Oslo, Lebanon, and Gaza. These beliefs are based on faith in the face of facts- faith that the Palestinians want a normal, functioning democracy just like the Israelis, faith that a peace process will cause Palestinian leaders to relinquish dreams of Israel’s destruction, faith that Palestinian leaders’ actions and statements are not indicators of what their true intentions.

Amos Oz is one of those stubborn voices. He published an article on Nov. 21st on Ynet using the tired “both sides” argument- both sides are threatened by extremists, both sides truly want peace.

Martin Sherman responded to Oz in his Nov. 24 Ynet article. He attacks Oz’s dangerous unwillingness to deal with the implications of the actual events of the past decade. One wonders what the Palestinians have to do to knock Oz from his ideological perch.

Defeating the demagogues
“The minute we leave south Lebanon we will have to erase the word Hizbullah from our vocabulary, because the whole idea of the State of Israel versus Hizbullah was sheer folly from the outset. It most certainly will no longer be relevant when Israel returns to her internationally recognized northern border. ”

Amos Oz in “Try a Little Tenderness” (Interview) Ha’aretz, March 17, 2000

As the above excerpt clearly illustrates, Amos Oz’s considerable literary talents do not translate into commensurate political acumen.

However, this is a shortcoming that has in no way deterred him from dispensing his views on matters political; nor has his manifest lack of competence in the field diminished the prominence these views are allotted in the media. This was again underscored by his latest pronouncement on the upcoming Annapolis conference in an Op-Ed piece entitled “Defeating the extremists” posted in this section on November 21.

It is an article so delusional and detached from reality that one cannot help wondering whether Oz’s literary successes have left him unable to differentiate fact from fiction. It gives the impression that the distinguished author has not quite made the transition from the imaginary world of the novel to that of everyday reality. He appears blissfully impervious to fact that while in the former, a stroke of pen and the whim of the writer are sufficient to conjure up personalities, invent processes, create events and determine outcomes, in the latter matters are considerably less malleable to wishful thinking. In the real world of politics – as opposed to the imaginary one in literature – dangers must be confronted, not written out of the plot.

Thus when Oz declares that the Palestinians “accept the principle of the two-state solution”, one can but wonder on what he bases his extraordinary optimism, for this is an assertion that flies in the face of the facts. A total of 90 percent of the Palestinian electorate voted for factions (Hamas – 56%, and Fatah – 34%) – which explicitly advocate the destruction of the “Zionist entity (see Hamas Charter and Fatah Constitution). Indeed if anything the Fatah is even more emphatic in this regard, declaring its aim to be “complete … eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence (Article 12 of its Constitution).

Moreover, less than a week before the publication of Oz’s article, the allegedly “moderate” head of the PA negotiating team, Saeb Erekat, categorically and publicly refused to recognize the Jews’ right to a sovereign state, declaring: “The Palestinians won’t accept Israel as a Jewish state.” Clearly then, even if the Palestinian have accepted the principle of a two state solution, as Oz alleges, they certainly do not see it as a principle involving “two states for two people”. So is Oz woefully misinformed…or willfully misleading?

Oz’s attempts to dismiss his political opponents by scornfully exposing alleged inconsistencies in their arguments. But it is an attempt that falls flat on its face. He writes: “The hawkish Right in Israel argues that Mahmoud Abbas is too weak and therefore making peace is not worthwhile. This is the same rightist camp that argued that Arafat was too dangerous, and therefore it was not worthwhile making peace with him either.”

Oz is of course correct. Could it be that Oz’s sanctimonious arrogance blinds him to the fact that the “hawkish Right” was indeed right, while the dovish Left was wrong? For clearly Arafat was too dangerous to make peace with (as even those who initially advocated doing so now admit); and Abbas is too weak to make peace with (as his crushing humiliation by Hamas clearly indicates). So are we missing something here, or is Oz actually castigating his opponents for having their position vindicated?

Insane fanaticism?
If inconsistency is up for discussion, Oz would do better to look at his own faction. For example, first explaining Palestinian terror as an expression by extremists of their frustration at the lack of a “peace” process, but later (once such a process was in fact instigated), as an expression, by the same extremists, of their desire to undermine the peace process, whose previous absence so frustrated them.

Moreover, it was the Left who dismissed pre-Oslo attempts by Israel to negotiate with potential indigenous Palestinian partners, claiming they were weak and lacked the necessary authority. It was the Left that proclaimed Israel cannot choose or cultivate a convenient Palestinian partner who could “deliver the goods.” Indeed, this was the very reason they insisted on dealing with the strong and authoritative Arafat.

Now that this approach has failed miserably, we are being told that we should revert to the former policy that they themselves discredited – of choosing and cultivating a Palestinian partner even though he is, by their own admission, weak and lacking in authority.

Not surprisingly, in his blueprint for “defeating the extremists,” Oz envisages Israel withdrawing behind a “border … similar to the 1967 boundaries.” Nothing could underscore the intellectual bankruptcy of Oz’s proposal more than this unswerving embrace of the failed and futile idée fixe of territorial retreat. Even more disturbing – and infuriating – is his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the disastrous consequences this policy has wrought in the recent past: Retreat in the North brought about the build-up of Hizbullah in Lebanon and the bombardment of the Galilee; retreat in the South brought about the rise of Hamas in Gaza and the ongoing bombardment of the Negev.

Now Oz suggests retreat in the East As recipe for “defeating the extremists”? Yet all he offers as a rationale for the hope that this time it will be different is his unsubstantiated belief that the Palestinians “recognize their duty to settle, through negotiations, the questions of Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, borders, security, and water.” How very reassuring.

Oz’s obsessive adherence to a doctrine of appeasement brings to mind two quotes from two prominent figures of the previous century – physicist Albert Einstein and political philosopher George Santayana. It was Einstein who defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”; whereas Santayana characterized “fanaticism” as “redoubling your efforts having forgotten your aim”. We are therefore left to wonder whether they would have judged Oz’s proposal to be “insane fanaticism”…or “fanatical insanity.”

4 Responses to Amos Oz’ Dangerous Detachment from Reality

  1. Eliyahu says:

    Martin Sherman is right of course about Oz. But I do find fault with the use of terms like “right” and “left.” For people outside Israel, “left” and “right” here have little to do with concern for the poor or the working class. In fact, many of the “left” hate the poor and the workers because they so often disagree with the self-appointed “elites,” which is how the mad playwright, Yehoshua Sobol, defined himself and his coterie recently in Yisrael HaYom.

    The Israeli “left” is very often the defender of privilege, the exploiter of connections [called "proteksiya" here], and the recipients of foreign funds [EU, German trade unions and churches, US foundations, jimmy carter's Carter Center, etc]. Much of the “left” could and should rightly be called the anti-national camp. That includes many or most of the “artists.” Like Oz, like Sobol, etc. Sobol claimed in the abovementioned column that the self-styled elites defended civilized values, etc. Well, they should, shouldn’t they? But often they undermine civilization, as in ther peacemongering that has only brought blood and tears. As Sherman points out.

    In my view, what is usually called the “left,” not only in Israel, is a manipulated body of public opinion. Further, one of the results of “leftist” agitation and indoctrination has been to undermine education generally, higher education in particular. Art too has suffered from the fanatic impulses of today’s “leftist” ideologies.

  2. Cynic says:

    Amos Oz is one of those stubborn voices.

    Irrational pigheadedness would put it better.
    He refused a prize for his writing because he would have to shake the hand of Prime Minister; two different prime ministers on different occasions as it so happens. BY receiving the prizes in the presence of said ministers would not force him to agree with their policies.
    So we cannot expect him to be rational about reality.

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