Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Israeli left isn't where it used to be

From Foreign Policy Magazine, April 2009, by Evan R. Goldstein, staff editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education [my emphasis added - SL]:

Running out of Solutions

On an overcast afternoon in early April, unsmiling men with big guns and earpieces patrol the sidewalk in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's private residence in the upscale Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia. A short walk up the road on Azza Street, Benny Morris sits outside a cafe, radiating despair. "Iran is building atomic weapons at least in part -- maybe in large part -- because it intends to use them. The people there are religious fanatics," he says in a rapid staccato. "Israel is under existential threat, and that is how Israel's military and political leaders must see the situation." In a 2007 essay, Morris, a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University, imagined a "second holocaust": nuclear-tipped Iranian missiles raining down on Haifa and Tel Aviv. "A million or more Israelis ... will die immediately," he predicted.

That is not the sort of language one expects from an icon of the left and an intellectual lodestar for supporters of the Palestinians. But Morris, 60, like much of the Israeli left, has grown ever more cynical about the prospects for a two-state solution and for peace. In his new book, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, Morris argues that the Palestinian national movement has never in fact reconciled itself to Israel's existence as a Jewish state. His shift from Oslo Accords optimist to embittered pessimist is emblematic of the disappointment and frustration that has ravaged the Israeli left since the second intifada. "Morris is a one-man microcosm of what many Israeli Jews of the Labor-Zionist strain have undergone in the past decade," says David B. Green, opinion editor at Ha'aretz's English edition. "They recognize that we're not on the verge of peace, that this conflict may not be resolvable, and that they were naive to think that was the case."

Educated at Cambridge University, Morris started his career in the late 1970s as a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, at that time a left-leaning newspaper ...[he] helped shape the intellectual and cultural climate that birthed the Oslo peace process. ...But Morris's optimism was first shattered in 2000 when Yasir Arafat rejected Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton's two-state proposals.

"Not only did they say no, but they launched a terroristic and guerrilla war against both the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Israel itself, suggesting that they are not just after the territories but want to drive the Jews out of Palestine," Morris says.

His dismay was further exacerbated when Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 failed to staunch Palestinian violence. "The moment Israel pulled out from a chunk of Arab territory, as the Arabs have always been demanding, it turned into a base for rocket attacks," fumes Morris, who went to jail for three weeks in 1987 for refusing to serve as an army reservist in the occupied territories. Now he believes that Palestinian irredentism is probably never going away.

...This kind of blasphemy has alienated many of his former comrades on the left. Tom Segev, a prominent columnist, has suggested that Morris "flipped out" as a result of the suicide bombings that plagued Israel a few years ago.... [other "leftists" quoted by Foreign Policy are such traitors I refuse to repeat their crap here; you'll have to follow the link to the original article if you're really interested to hear the opinions of Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe - SL]

But Morris's opinions are manifest in a very real way in Israeli politics. Consider the election results from February. The Labor party, which dominated Israeli politics until 1977 and has been the traditional home of the Zionist left, came in fourth with a meager 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, its worst showing in the history of the state. Meretz, the other "major" left-wing party, garnered a pathetic three seats. This latest outcome is hardly an aberration: The center-right has won every election since Barak was voted out of the prime minister's office in 2001.

And reconciliation with the Palestinians is starting to seem like a dream from a bygone era, even to Morris. "Talk to any Palestinian; they don't know about the Jewish past, and Jewish suffering doesn't interest them," he says. "They believe that Jews have no legitimate right [to] be here. That belief underlines their vision that Palestine must be all Arab and must be regained by them down the road." Morris takes a sip of carrot juice and continues: "The peace camp has been tragically undermined by Arab recalcitrance. When an Israeli politician campaigns on a plan to broker a two-state solution, the Israeli public is no longer interested because they know the other side doesn't want it. So they vote for Netanyahu or someone else who speaks in terms of conflict management rather than solutions."

...But, although Morris remains a committed two-stater, voting for Meretz and Labor, he's not so sure anymore that a two-state solution is realistic: "Jewish Israeli society and Palestinian Arab society are in a different place in terms of history, culture, and values," he says. "You can see this most clearly in Muslim terrorism around the world, and their attitude towards women and intellectuals. Add to that a long history of violence and hatred over the last 100 years, not to mention different languages and a different God. It is inconceivable that a society of Jews and Arabs could function right now as one state in Palestine." Moreover, he doesn't believe that the narrow parcel of land sandwiched between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea can be partitioned along the lines proposed by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton in 2000. "The West Bank and Gaza are not sufficient for the Palestinian's needs; they need more space to resettle the diaspora of refugees who want to come home." So Morris advocates attaching the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan -- which is today majority Palestinian -- and making that combined entity the Palestinian state. Such an arrangement, he says, has a better chance of defusing the forces of Palestinian militarism and revanchism...
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