May 18, 2009

Benny Morris in disgrace again

Monthly Review has a good review of Benny Morris's latest offering. The reviewer, Ran Greenstein, tears Morris's One State, Two States to bits but the bit that struck me was this:
In his rush to demolish arguments he does not like, Morris is not satisfied with reporting the debate on Judt's seminal 2003 piece, advocating a bi-national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He quotes approvingly what he regards as a definitive argument against the supposed singling out of Israel by Judt. Michael Walzer asks Judt: why start the fight against nationalism with Israel, the Jewish state, why not with France, Germany, Sweden, and so on? That this argument is bogus should be clear even to those not privileged enough to deal with "advanced studies" in Princeton.

In France, the likes of Zinedine Zidane (of Muslim Algerian background) or of Thierry Henry (of Caribbean ancestry) are entitled to full equality and share in national wealth and power no less than the descendants of the ancient Gauls, even if they have no ethnic linkage to them at all, or to the Catholic Church. In Sweden, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (of Bosnian Muslim origin) are entitled to full enjoyment of citizenship rights as the descendants of the Nordic tribes of ancient times. This is not the case in Israel, in which citizenship and access to resources are determined to a large extent by ethnic origin and religious affiliation, and in which civic nationalism that encompasses all citizens regardless of ethnicity and faith does not exist. Even countries that may give preference in the acquisition of citizenship to ethnic kin of the majority group (Germany, Hungary) do not do that at the expense of indigenous non-German or non-Magyar groups, as is the case in Israel.

To fail to see this basic distinction is not just philosophically shaky but also plainly dishonest.
And yet zionists do this all the time and in the mainstream media they get away with it. But let's hear some more from the reviewer:
Half-truths and distortions are common in the book. To illustrate, let me give three examples:

1. On pp. 124-26, Morris dismisses the notion that the PLO declaration of independence in 1988 constituted the acceptance of a two-state solution or implied recognition of Israel: it did not mention Israel, did not identify the boundaries of the state of Palestine, and retained a focus on Palestinian rights only. Sounds outrageous indeed, until we realize that another document, written 40 years before that, was guilty of the same sins: it did not mention Palestine or a Palestinian state (or right to it), did not identify any boundaries, and remained focused solely on specific historical rights (of Jews). That document is known as the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel. Can it be the case that Morris is unfamiliar with that text?

2. On p. 129, Morris repeats the canard that he himself helped disseminate, in the New York Review of Books, that Yasser Arafat called for the destruction of Israel in a speech in a Johannesburg mosque in 1994, as he called for a continuation of a 'Jihad.' What Morris 'forgets' to tell his readers is that Arafat repeatedly mentioned in the same speech a process of negotiations with Israel (and prime minister Rabin in particular) as a way to liberate Jerusalem, that he did not mention at all or call for any armed activities, and that he explicitly asserted that Jerusalem belonged with the 1967 occupied territories and excluded from this definition pre-1967 Israel.

3. At various points Morris asserts that Arafat rejected the two-state solution at the Camp David summit of 2000, while all participants have made it clear that what Arafat rejected was the specific proposals presented by Prime Minister Barak, which sought to incorporate about 10% of the occupied West Bank into Israel and fragment the rest into various non-contiguous blocks. At no point did Arafat reject the goal of the two-state solution, but rather the Israeli version (which was improved upon later in the Taba negotiations, though still fell short of Palestinian demands). He sought to extract better terms from the US and Israel and has managed to do that up to a point, as Morris, if forced to, would acknowledge (in other words, Arafat behaved completely rationally as a negotiator, even if he ended overplaying his hand). In fact, in a rare moment of honesty (p. 174), Morris admits that his entire construction of Arafat as a deceitful politician, who used his public support for the two-state solution to sneak in the one- state solution in a phased manner, falls apart when we examine his refusal to accept the Barak-Clinton offer (why didn't Arafat accept it and then proceeded with his 'real' goal -- the destruction of Israel? Morris cannot really answer).

I'd like to think that this book is out of date now, that with the departure of George W.Bush and the rise and rise of more overtly right wing forces in Israel that most westerners find repugnant, there is too much disdain for this particular brand of hasbara but if the reviewer is to be believed, Yale knows what it's doing, commercially anyway.


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