Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Two Postings Today -- This is the second

Book Review

One State, Two States

Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict

By Benny Morris

Yale University Press, $26

201 pages

Two-state solution, Yada, yada, yada

"I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have articulated that publicly and I will articulate that privately," President Barack Obama said on April 21 in an Oval Office meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah.

On April 17, America's special envoy George Mitchell, now in the process of setting up an office in Jerusalem, said that the Obama administration will be applying "great energy" in pursuit of a two-state solution. "A two state solution is the only solution," said Mitchell.

In the background, Fatah leaders have been urging the White House to press the recently elected government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to explicitly and unconditionally commit to a two-state solution. Netanyahu formally did so on June 14 at his seminal Bar-Ilan speech and again this past Sunday around the Cabinet table.


On April 22, the One Voice movement -- which works to build support among Palestinians and Jews for a two-state solution -- funded a poll which, lo and behold, revealed that an overwhelming majority of both peoples favor a two-state solution.

Along comes Benny Morris to burst the bubble. His latest book, a slim account of the two-state solution idea is premised on the conviction that, rhetoric aside, the Palestinian Arabs have never really accepted the legitimacy a Jewish state, and that "one-statism" was, is, and remains the dominant Palestinian position.

Whether it is the clear and unequivocal voice of Hamas's Mahmoud Zahar saying “We cannot, we will not, and we will never recognize the enemy in any way, shape or form,” or the more nuanced and Western-savvy tone of Fatah negotiator Saeb Erekat, reiterating that Fatah -- 16 years after Oslo -- will under no circumstances recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, Morris's convincing thesis is that the last thing the Palestinians really want is a state of Palestine living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state.


One State, Two States opens with the unexceptional assertion that one-statism is the dominant line among Hamas radicals, but also – in what may be startling news for some – among Fatah "moderates" and the anti-Zionist intelligentsia on campus and in the punditocracy. The "moderates" and their academic backers say they have given up on "two-states for two peoples", ostensibly because Israel's presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is so entrenched that it will never agree to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines – an unalterable Palestinian demand along with the "right of return for Palestinian refugees." Morris has a go at intellectuals such as Rashid Khalidi whom he persuasively shows to be faux moderates.

Of course, this conflict is not over borders, as Morris makes clear: "Put simply, the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement, from inception, and ever since, has consistently regarded Palestine as innately, completely, inalienably, and legitimately 'Arab' and Muslim and has aspired to establish in it a sovereign state under its rule covering all of the country's territory."

The Arabs' steadfast rejectionism is painfully predicable because it is premised on the conviction that the Jews have no civilizational connection (predating the arrival of the Arabs and the birth of Islam) to the Land of Israel and that the Jews are colonial interlopers. The struggle, therefore, is not about borders but over the zero-sum question of which people is, or will be, the majority population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

When the Zionist movement and the soon-to-be nascent Arab national movement first encountered one another, the Jews were a clear minority. In 1882, Morris writes, there were about half a million Arabs and maybe 25,000 Jews. By 1920, there were 80,000 Jews and 700,000 Arabs. When the UN voted for partition, there were 600,000 Jews and 1.25 million Arabs. Today, there are about 3.9 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza plus another 1.5 million Palestinians inside the Green Line compared to a Jewish population of 5.5 million.

No matter how much the ratio narrowed – and even if the Jews achieved majority status over a sliver of their historic homeland -- there was no way the Arabs would agree to share the land or that Jewish sovereignty was legitimate. It didn't matter that the Arabs had never been sovereign in Palestine or that most of the land was owned by the faraway Ottoman rulers; compromise was out of the question. Nor did it matter that nearly 80 percent of the Jewish National Home, as defined by the League of Nations and the Balfour Declaration, had been lopped off by the British in 1922 and turned over to the Arabs as Transjordan. The Jews, in response, had reluctantly abandoned claims to eastern Palestine, the singular exception being Ze'ev Jabotinsky and his revisionist followers who held fast to the belief that the Jews would one day be the dominant majority.


Once the extent of Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise registered, Zionist idealists sought to accommodate the Arabs by proposing a bi-national solution. Morris summarizes the efforts of a number of small groups such as Brit Shalom and Hashomer Hatza'ir which pursued the bi-national idea. Some would have even consented to a permanent Jewish minority in the name of sharing the land. But these groups lost steam (not that they had much to begin with) in the wake of the 1929 Hebron intifada and subsequent murderous uprisings in 1936-39. Like today's J-Street radicals pushing for an imposed solution, pacifist rabbi and Hebrew University president Judah Magnes hoped that a bi-national state would be forced on the parties even if it meant a permanent Jewish minority. But in the wake of the April 1948 slaughter of a convoy of medical staff and faculty heading to Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, even Magnes gave up, went home, and died, Morris tells us.

In the period leading up to the creation of the state, Zionist pragmatists grudgingly accepted the partition of Western Palestine once it became clear that other options of sharing this land with the Arabs, such as a bi-national state, were either unacceptable or impractical. The pragmatists did so despite the realization that western Palestine was and is, basically, an indivisible geographic, political and economic unit.

Yet, every Zionist "yes" to compromise was met by an Arab "no." Their leaders rejected the July 1937 Peel Commission which would have granted Arabs the bulk of the country west of the Jordan; they even said no to the 1939 White Paper which essentially overturned the Balfour Declaration. And they then rejected the 1947 UN Partition to create two states.

Zionist leaders knew all along that ruling over a hostile Arab minority in a partitioned state would be impractical. Had there been goodwill, an exchange of populations would have been possible. There were precedents, such as the Greek-Turkish exchange in the 1920s. Morris cites David Ben-Gurion: "We never wanted to dispossess the Arabs. But since England is giving [the larger] part of the country promised to us for an Arab state, it is only fair that the Arabs in our state be transferred to the Arab area."


The 1948 War, Morris reminds us, displaced 700,000 Arabs but left a 160,000-strong Arab minority inside the Green Line. But that war, he points out, also ended "in an effective two-state partition of Palestine, albeit between Israel and Jordan…" with the Jews holding 8,000 sq. miles and the Arabs holding 2,000 in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet the Arabs sat on the West Bank and Gaza for 19 years refusing to create a state. Soon after the 1967 war -- when, as a result of their war of aggression, they had lost the West Bank and Gaza also -- they once again said no to peace, no to recognition and no to negotiation.

Even in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords, writes Morris: "Arafat kept dropping hints, in speeches in Arabic to Muslim audiences, that he was still wedded to the phased policy of liberating all of Palestine and had no intention of honoring a two-state settlement." Morris mentions [page 151] that suicide bombings "were inaugurated by the Palestinian fundamentalists after the Goldstein massacre." In fact, the first suicide attack took place on April 16, 1993 in the West Bank at Bet El. There were about a dozen Hamas strikes (not all successful) before Baruch Goldstein went on his Hebron killing spree of Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Machpela, in February 1994.

In any event, the Arabs again said "no" in July 2000 to the Clinton plan at Camp David; again to George W. Bush at Taba 2001, and at the end of 2008 when Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Ehud Olmert's magnanimous offer of virtually 100 percent of the West Bank (any difference to be made up by ceding territory in the Negev). This thumbnail sketch of rejectionism is comprehensible only if one appreciates how viscerally the Arabs feel that the Jewish presence in Palestine is a cancer which needs to be kept from spreading until it can, ultimately, be excised.

One State, Two States is a superb summation of just how steadfast the Arabs are about not sharing the Land. Genuine moderates who expressed the slightest interest in compromise were isolated or murdered. Long decades of largely self-inflicted suffering and displacement have only hardened Palestinian hearts, not made them reconsider the pointlessness of their intransigence.


Morris shows how the differences between the PLO and Hamas are inconsequential as far as acceptance of Jewish legitimacy in Palestine is considered. He takes us through the creation of the Palestine National Council in 1964 which premised its platform on the idea that the "Jews are not one people" and have no national rights. It is a position that remains unchanged 45 years later.

He argues that the Fatah constitution has never been revoked or amended even if, post-1973, the movement modified its pronouncements to gain Western support. While the goals were unchanged, new pragmatic tactics, including a "policy of phases" was implemented. In other words, for a spurt of time, the Palestinians appeared willing to take whatever land they could gain in negotiations and use that as a staging area for the continued struggle to liberate all of Palestine.

The phased-plan, however, may now be off the table. How else to explain why Fatah's old guard dismissed the offer Olmert made at the end of 2008? Was it because Fatah lacks even a semblance of legitimacy within the Palestinian polity? Was it because rank and file Palestinians have lost faith in the phased plan? Perhaps the Palestinians fear that even a temporary demobilization will rob them of the will to fight. Morris raises this question, but like the rest of us can provide no satisfactory answer.

Personally, I don't think Fatah's inhibitions relate to Hamas. The Islamists would not stand in the way of the destruction of Israel in stages – indeed, Ahmed Yousef and others have even put forth a plan for a multi-year hudna that serves that is a variation on the theme.

Perhaps the stumbling block is Israel's insistence on a non-militarized Palestinian state, a rejection of the "right of return" and retention of strategic settlement blocs, which theoretically would thwart the phased plan from getting off the ground.


For any student of the Arab-Israel conflict, One State, Two States is an excellent primer on Palestinian duplicity. Morris demonstrates that the Palestinians never really accepted a two-state solution and that Fatah moderates never really gave up on terrorism in the wake of Oslo. The Palestinian "right of return," he shows, will not be solved through diplomatic sleight of hand whereby, for instance, Israel "acknowledged the moral and material suffering caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the 1948 war" via "compensation, resettlement [and] rehabilitation." Nor would it do for Israel to accept a symbolic number of refugees. Even Palestinian moderates, Morris shows, will not bend on their "right" to demographically asphyxiate Israel with the millions upon millions of "refugees."

The future, plainly, belongs to Hamas and One State, Two States presents a workmanlike summary of Hamas's origins and intentions. The Obama administration's likely willingness to fund a Palestinian unity government even if Hamas does not recognize Israel, renounce terror and accept previous Palestinian commitments is disconcerting. Not surprisingly, we're witnessing EU member states flirt with the Islamists – just as they did with Fatah in the early 1980s -- and we're seeing how so-called moderate Hamasniks are learning to fudge their goals in a way that eases the consciences of euro-liberals.

Yet Hamas is unapologetically anti-Semitic, fulminating, as Morris shows, about freemasons, Rotary Clubs and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. "This, then, is the covenant of the leading political party among the Palestinian Arabs, the party that they elected to power in free elections, that thoroughly dominates the Gaza Strip…" he concludes.

One State, Two States is a gloomy, concise, and spot-on account of where prospects for peace with the Palestinians stand: in the same ditch that the Palestinian Arabs began digging a century ago. It is levelheaded polemic more than history. And Morris is no doubt right to acknowledge that non-strategic settlement building close to Palestinian population center in the West Bank has been unhelpful. Yet he is honest enough to acknowledge that most Israelis would be ready to uproot these communities in return for genuine peace.


Morris, who worked at The Jerusalem Post long before I arrived there, made academic waves in 1989 with The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 which took the wind out of the Zionist line that the Arabs left of their own volition or because they were encouraged by their leaders to "get out of the way while Arab armies finished off the Jews." Yet he concluded that "The Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab."

To paraphrase Woody Allen, reading this book reminds me that we Israelis are at a crossroads in our relations with the Palestinians: One path leads to oblivion while the other to a total abyss. Pray we choose wisely.

Or as Morris puts it -- a one-state solution is a non-starter; the two peoples couldn't possibly live comfortably under one roof. At the same time, the prospects for a two-state solution are bleak "because the Palestinian, in the deepest fibers of their being, oppose such an outcome…"

About the only glimmer of hope Morris holds out is some kind of West Bank-Gaza-Jordan confederation. His next book, I imagine, will tell us why this, too, is a non-starter for the Palestinians.

Somehow, for a time, Morris got lumped together with anti-Zionist revisionist historians. Perhaps it was because of his reported refusal to do reserve duty over the Green Line; perhaps his association with Ben-Gurion University which has a reputation for being a hotbed of post-Zionist radicalism. And yet, precisely because Morris has for years labored in the archives with an open mind, his analysis here and elsewhere has added credibility. The highly accessible One State, Two States should be required reading from the Oval Office to the college campus.


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