Nietzsche once remarked that thinking is like diving into an icy pond, going to the bottom and grasping a stone from the depths. Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, gets his feet wet and comes running out.
No Common Ground
By JEFFREY GOLDBERG
Published: May 20, 2009
In March, Muhammad Dahlan, a former chief of one of thePalestinian Authority’s multifarious secret police organizations, and once a tacit ally of the C.I.A., defended Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from the charge, made by Hamas, that it had previously recognized Israel’s right to exist.
ONE STATE, TWO STATES
Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict
By Benny Morris
240 pp. Yale University Press. $26
First Chapter: ‘One State, Two States’ (May 24, 2009)
“They say that Fatah has asked them to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and this is a big deception,” Dahlan said. “For the 1,000th time, I want to reaffirm that we are not asking Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Rather we are asking Hamas not to do so, because Fatah never recognized Israel’s right to exist.”
This was not a helpful statement, at least not to the peace-processors in Washington and in Europe, and to their diminishing band of confederates in Israel and the Palestinian territories. But Dahlan’s comment helps buttress the main argument of Benny Morris’s new book, “One State, Two States.” Morris, a professor of history at Ben- Gurion University in Israel, argues that Arab rejectionism is so profound a force that only the terminally obtuse could believe that Palestinians will ever acquiesce to a state comprised solely of the West Bank and Gaza.
Nice beginning, especially when speaking to an audience of self-selecting liberal cognitive egocentrists.
Morris is equally dismissive of those who believe that a so-called one-state solution might work in place of a two-state solution. Muslim anti-Semitism and the deep cultural divide that separates Arab from Jew, among other realities, make this notion a fantasy. In this short book Morris asserts there is no one-state solution to the Middle East crisis, and no two-state solution. Morris does promote the possibility of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, but he makes the case anemically and cursorily.
This is not to say that Morris isn’t convincing at times, for instance when he says that one-staters, like the constitutional scholar Daniel Lazar and the historian Tony Judt, who envision a utopian post-Zionist future, in fact are calling for Israel to be eliminated.
Yet Morris, like Judt, has an almost irretrievably dark vision of Israel’s future as a Jewish-majority state. The difference is that Morris does not believe that Israel’s mistakes — even the settlement movement that colonized the West Bank — are what might doom it. The culprit is the implacable fanaticism of Arab Islamists, who are unwilling to accept a Jewish national presence in what is thought of as Arab land, a position that hasn’t changed since the meeting of the third Palestine Arab Congress, in 1920, which rejected Jewish claims to the land since “Palestine is the holy land of the two Christian and Muslim worlds.” Subsequent events that seemingly contradict this belief — most notably, the P.L.O.’s ostensible recognition of Israel in 1988 — have been staged for the benefit of gullible Westerners, Morris writes.
Most people still think that the PLO changed their charter. They voted to change their charter at some point in the future, and people like Hanan Ashrawi voted against it. Part of the reason we don’t know about it is that both the media , authors like Graham Usher (chaps. 10-11), and the proponents of the Oslo Process like President Clinton were so eager to move on that they pretended that it had already happened. Details and extensive references here.
When on journalist reported on Ashrawi’s no-vote — on the basis of good honor-shame concerns (“This will appear to be a succumbing to Israeli dictate.”) — she was told by her editor that that can’t be true because, “Ashrawi is a moderate.”
Morris has had a strange and tumultuous career. He is a onetime debunker of Zionist mythology, the father of Israel’s “new historians,” who have dismantled the romantic narrative of Israel’s founding and replaced it with more complicated truths, such as that during Israel’s War of Independence, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, essentially ordered the forcible “transfer” of many thousands of Arabs from territory that would become Israel.
It might help to mention at this point that Morris’ work at this stage of his career was highly problematic. Of course this is precisely the kind of work that most appeals to the NYT readership (and Goldberg?). Imagine a Palestinian shredding the Palestinian “romantic narrative”…
As a result, Morris was denounced as an anti-Zionist, considered too radical for employment in the Israeli academy (in 1996, Israel’s former president, Ezer Weizman, finally arranged for him the teaching job at the university named after the man he exposed as a “transferist”). And he went to jail in 1987 rather than serve as an army reservist in the occupied territories. He was thoroughly a man of the left. But the failed summit at Camp David in 2000 prompted Morris to re-examine the assumptions of Israeli liberals, who believed that it was their own side’s intransigence that perpetuated the conflict. In “One State, Two States,” Morris argues that Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister in July 2000, offered unparalleled concessions but that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, rejected them all and made no counteroffer. By December of 2000, Israel had accepted President Bill Clinton’s “parameters,” offering the Palestinians all of the Gaza Strip, 94 percent to 96 percent of the West Bank and sovereignty over Arab areas of East Jerusalem. Arafat again rejected the deal.
To Morris, this rejection and all that followed — the hyperviolence of the second Palestinian uprising, the rise of Hamas — confirm that there is nothing Israel could do to make Arab Muslims agree to its existence as a Jewish state.
But at the same time Morris ignores the possibility that recent Israeli mistakes have marginalized the lives of Palestinians who might in fact have been ready for compromise.
He’s backing out of the cold water.
Take the Palestinian reaction to the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005. The Morris camp would cite the rocket fire that followed the withdrawal as further proof of unyielding Arab rejectionism. But the empowerment of Hamas was inevitable, given the foolish way Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, engineered the withdrawal. He could have negotiated the pullout with the more moderate Palestinian Authority government, which would have then been able to prove to its constituents that it could extract concessions from Israel. But Sharon handled the pullout unilaterally, which allowed Hamas to claim — not wrongly — that it pushed out the Israelis by force, while the Palestinian Authority stood by impotently.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Either Goldberg is living in lalaland or he has no memory. At the time, the whole point of the pull-out was that Israel had no one to negotiate with, and that the “moderate PA government” had revealed itslef neither moderate nor a serious negotiating partner. Sharon’s dramatic pull-out was intended to bring people’s attention to that problem. Goldberg falls into the very trap that Morris warns against — thinking that “moderate” means “rational” by our standards, rather than willing to say moderate sounding things in English while pursuing in Arabic word and deed things that have nothing to do either with reciprocity, nor with Palestinian self-interest as we cognitive egocentrists understand it (e.g., a concern for the welfare of their people).
Morris’s gloom sometimes leads him to inflammatory conclusions. He recently suggested to an Israeli journalist that perhaps Ben-Gurion “should have done a complete job” of removing Arabs from the land that became Israel. “If he had carried out a full expulsion — rather than a partial one — he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations,” Morris explained.
In “One State, Two States,” he argues that this most enduring of conflicts is primarily cultural, not political. Between Arabs and Israelis, “the value placed on human life and the rule of (secular) law is completely different,” he writes, “as exhibited, in Israel itself, in the vast hiatus between Jewish and Arab perpetration of crimes and lethal road traffic violations.” But might the differences also be explained by higher rates of poverty among Arab Israelis?
No. Goldberg is falling for the classic liberal egocentric view that poverty causes dysfunctions rather than vice-versa. When the first Intifada broke out the World Bank listed the West Bank as one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world. Alas. Then they regained their honor by trashing themselves and shaming the Israelis in world opinion. The satisfactions of resentment seem to be absent from Goldberg’s radar.
This is not to overlook the great dysfunction among the Palestinians, whose national liberation movement remains, 89 years since the third Palestine Arab Congress, bloody-minded and incompetent. Gaza, after all, is currently ruled by a cult that sanctifies murder-suicide. But there are many Palestinians on the West Bank, and even in Gaza, who reject the Hamas way and seek dignity and quiet within the framework of an independent state that coexists with Israel.
If they are there, they are a) silent and b) powerless. Rather than tossing off such empty throw-away lines rather than following Morris to the bottom of the icy stream (or to mix metaphors, swallowing the red pill), Goldberg feeds his audience the pablum that allows them to ignore the iron grip that dysfunctional Palestinian leaders have on their people, and go on blaming Israel for their “mistakes.”