Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Does he Mean "No Common Ground"?

Jeffrey Goldberg reviews Benny Morris' new book One State Two States.

Apparently the thesis of Morris' new book, surprise surprise, is that peace can't be made with the Palestinians, because there's no common ground on which to place such an agreement. You'll remember that 20 years ago Morris was one of the most interesting and creative people in Israel's Left camp, the founder of the "New Historians" club which he also named, and the person who more than any single other individual, forced Israelis to accept that they indeed had forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes in 1948 (though without a preconcieved plan, and probably half of the refugees left of their own accord earlier in the war, thereby showing the Israelis the feasability of the idea).

Then, in the second half of 2000, the Palestinians forced a dismayed Morris to re-evaluate his understanding of their current positions, and ever since he has been implacable in saying what he learned.

Lots of us went through the same process; what makes Morris unusual is that he's far better informed than most of us, on the one hand, and he apparently has the propensity to be something of an extremist, on the other, irrespctive of the political camp he's in. I know some others like him, people who until 2000 were far to my left, and since 2001 or so have moved significantly to my right; all the while as hundreds of thousands of us moved from left-of-center to right-of-center and then back to center. Extremists will be extremists; centrists will be centrists.

Goldberg is American, not Israeli, though he's unusually well informed, and he aprreciates Morris' scholarship but can't accept his conclusions. Yet not because he can refute them: he simply can't accept them. Apparently, he and Morris don't share enough common ground.


Maoz said...

Half of the refugees left of their own accord earlier in the war? You mean they left because they knew the IDF would expel them based on previous operations and psychological warfare implemented by the Hagana? Isn't that what Morris argues?

Yaacov said...

No, actually, that's not what he says. The documentary evidence he found indicates that the first wave of people to leave were the educated and well-to-do, who could afford easily to go elsewhere and wait out the war; they expected to come back later, but effectively left their society leaderless in its time of great need. They were then followed by a growing number of people who were surprised to see that the war wasn't going as they expected. This was strenghtened after Deir Yassin in APril, but had already been happening earlier. The war began on 28th November 1947; the Haganah didn't begin actively expelling anyone until April 1948, fearing that once the coalition of Arab armies invaded, in May, local Arabs would make the invasion easier. Thus the Dalet Plan, to clear specific, rather narrowly drawn areas.

If the story really interests you, you should read Morris' book on the origin of the Palestinian refugees. It's far better than 100% of the uninformed verbiage spewed out by all and sundry.

Gavin said...

I'm surprised that you appear to give Morris more credibility than he warrants Yaacov. Much of what you view as anti-semitism in the West is in reality the anti-colonialism 'white mans burden' that the liberal left are well known for. Morris & Pappes books are the cornerstone of a good 70-80% of the anti-Israel sentiment in the west. It's not anti-semiticism at all from most of those who follow the likes of the Guardian. They view Israelis as the white colonial invaders who evicted the natives from their land. Morris's earlier book(s) were like a Siren call to the liberal left, an irresistable ideological pheremone.

I'd have thought the fact that Morris is an extremist should eject him from mainstream thinking. All extremists distort the evidence to suit their own dogma, their books are merely soap-boxes for promoting their own political & ideological views.

If I accepted Morris's take on Israel history then I for one wouldn't have much sympathy or support for present-day Israel either. He has done your country no favours.


4infidels said...

Goldberg misses the most significant shift in Morris' thinking resulting from his recent research and analysis: that the Arab war against Israel is a jihad and has been a jihad long before Hamas came on the scene.

Yes, there are major cultural differences between Arabs and Jews. But the fact is that the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim attack on the Jewish community since the beginning of the Zionist movement has been explicitly framed for Arab-Muslim ears using Islam's texts, historical references and communal obligations.

Perhaps the NY Times won't permit Goldberg to raise the role of Islam in its pages, though when he calls the Palestinians a "national liberation movement," it is clear that either Goldberg or his editors are missing the point and thus misleading their readers.

Whatever qualms I have about some of Morris' work and political statements, the third and final chapter of his "One State, Two State" book sums up the conflict almost perfectly.

Goldberg is a fine reporter who does a great job taking apart some of Israel's most hostile critics. But as for that large number of Palestinian "moderates" who will one day accept living in peace next to Israel, it is hard to find evidence that they exist in significant numbers. And if those "moderates" exist in significant numbers, is it possible with in an Arab-Muslim framework for them to have the ability to influence the nature of their society to the point where peaceful co-existence could become a reality?

The sad fact is that Islam commands believers wage jihad against neighboring unbelievers. Islam holds a special hatred for Jews (who are assigned a role of humiliation on earth and suffering in the afterlife) while putting a primary importance of recovering any lands that were once ruled by Islam. For someone in Palestinian society to oppose the jihad against Israel (even calls to end suicide bombings are done because they are hurting the Palestinian cause or peace is chosen at this time as a strategic choice...i.e. not acting violently to the choose is chosen as a way of advancing the war aims by other means) is to risk being called an apostate, and the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death. Look at how quickly those accused of "collaboration" find themselves executed. Islam and Arab culture are mutually reinforcing similar attitudes that leave little room for dissent.

Add to this a religion and culture that put a primary importance on honor and not shaming the family, tribe, nation or faith, and you have a place where everyone--regardless of whether they desire to live in peace with Israel--must act as though they are supporting the anti-Zionist cause, at a minimum through words, if not through actions, so as not to shame their family and friends and not to risk death as an apostate or collaborator.

I may wish the truth was different, but change comes slowly in Islamic lands. For now, Israel must remain strong and accept that the "partner for peace" that the majority of Jews desire, either doesn't exist or has no influence upon Palestinian politics.

Roque Nuevo said...

"But as for that large number of Palestinian "moderates" who will one day accept living in peace next to Israel, it is hard to find evidence that they exist in significant numbers." First off, Goldberg never mentioned "moderates." He knows better than that. But the point is, Goldberg's statement (referred to above) is supported by Morris's own work. Arab politics is clan politics. The rejectionist clan took power for themselves and defeated the rest. But it was about their taking power, not their ideology. This was a means to an end. Morris shows how the Husseini clan took up rejectionism and strong-armed their way to holding power through murder and extortion. But Morris makes it clear that there was a large group of Arabs who were happy to live along side Jews.

Goldberg appears to be writing from his experience as a reporter here and not referring to history. But it just stands to reason that the same group of Arabs exists today that was beaten into silence years ago.