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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 09, 2003

Denying history

I call your attention Ethan Bronner's review of a book 'Shattered Dreams' from Sunday's New York Times Book Section. Bronner starts off with an excellent observation:
I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the Jews' claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later he told a Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of Arabs today.
Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. Next he writes:
Ask most Israelis about Palestinian nationalism or the centrality of Jerusalem to Palestinian history and you will get a dismissive wave of the hand and a lecture asserting that there was no Palestinian identity until the Arabs invented it as a weapon to wield against Israel.
That's right, the denial of Jewish history is equated with denying the "centrality of Jerusalem to Palestinian history." Bonner acknowledges later that "Palestinians refuse to accept that the spot ever contained the temples, despite near unanimity on the point among archaeologists and historians." But as Daniel Pipes has shown (on more than one occasion) there is no Muslim claim to Jerusalem.
There's another line where Bronner seems to acknowledge the lack of symmetry between the two sides:
Until the two sides teach their children what it means to have stood in the shoes of their adversaries -- something the Israelis began doing but stopped, and something the Palestinians have never done -- the chance of real peace remains slim.
Unfortunately Bronner handles this on the sly. Why did Israelis stop trying to understand their enemy? Is it because they were rewarded for making efforts at coming to terms with the Palestinian with the brutal violence of the "Aqsa" intifada? Of course Bronner wants to explain that away too.
The accepted story in the United States is that after several years of halting negotiations, at Camp David the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat some 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a reasonable deal on Jerusalem. Arafat balked, made no counteroffer and two months later gave his real response, the violent uprising, complete with suicide bombings.
Again, so far so good, but then ...
Enderlin's story makes clear that there is truth to this version but, by itself, it will not do. Unless you understand the way Barak ignored the Palestinians in 1999 in a failed effort to cut a deal with the Syrians first; unless you see the accelerated level of Jewish settlement building; unless you grasp the dynamic by which the Israeli right interrupted the peace process, forcing Barak to pull back, you will not have a complete picture. In this book, we learn what was offered at Camp David -- 76 percent of the West Bank -- and how it grew to 92 percent the following January before talks broke down. Errors, misjudgments, false moves and internal tensions -- Israeli, Palestinian and American -- are all part of the sad story.

One example concerns the visit of Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the opposition, to the holiest Muslim site in Jerusalem, followed by the uprising. Israelis have long argued that the visit was an excuse for an already planned uprising. The Palestinians have said the violence was spontaneous. Enderlin shows that it was the poor judgment of an Israeli deputy police commander -- based on faulty intelligence -- that set off the worst of the violence, which was then taken over by Palestinian leaders seeking to make their mark.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. As Joseph pointed out earlier this week, there's a movement afoot to absolve Arafat from blame for the intifada. Read for example Amb. Yehuda Lancry's letter from October 2, 2000. He noted that the violence started on September 13. Take a contemporaneous account from Ha'aretz on September 18, 2000 that Arafat had released every single Hamas and PIJ leader from jail and you realize that the violence occurred because the ringleaders were released from prison and allowed to operate freely by the PA.
Clearly Bronner has to toe the company line at the NY Times and can't admit that Arafat never wanted peace. Like Friedman and many others in the media (and the diplomatic corps) there's no crime committed by the PA that is so large that it can't be explained away.

Bronner ends by writing:
But in the end, this book suggests, until there is a mutual acceptance of competing historic and religious claims, a lasting solution will not emerge.
That indeed is the problem. What Bronner won't allow himself to say is that Palestinian nationalism is built upon the denial of Zionism and that until that changes there will be no peace. It's not a balanced issue here. There is a good side and a bad side. Trying to blame both sides is not the sign of even handedness but the sign moral blindness.

Cross posted to IsraPundit and David's Israel Blog.