—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Middle East
14 August 2005

Fuming for Israel: the Case of Alan Dershowitz

3. Israeli colonialism

Right-click here and choose 'Save target as ...' to download the entire article as a word document. (File size: 570k approx)

A foreign people arrive in another land in large numbers and begin to take it over. They develop their own army and institutional structures and announce their intention to turn the land and its resources into a state belonging to them. Is this colonialism? According to Alan Dershowitz, no. The reason is obvious: the profile of such a regime exactly matches that of the Zionists, who publicly declared that they were going to impose their own state down on top of an indigenous population who were openly opposed to them doing so. So this chapter is Dershowitz's effort to find some loophole in the definition of colonialism which will get Israel off.

To interpolate briefly, it's worth noting that around the time of World War I, roughly 90% of the population of pre-mandate Palestine were non-Jewish and the bulk of even those that were Jewish were opposed to the Zionist project.[1] The irksome presence of the natives and their entitlement to the land the Zionists craved was acknowledged even by the first two emissaries sent to Palestine following the first Zionist Congress in 1897, who cabled back that: 'the bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man'.[2] No colonial regime, however, has ever been put off by the presence of, or resistance from, an autochonous population: the Zionists were no exception. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, when confronted with the moral problems immanent in giving practical expression to the Zionist enterprise, fashioned a rickety rationale: if all were agreed that Zionism was a moral cause, then it followed from this that it must be carried out, 'without regard to the assent or dissent of anyone else.'[3]

Dershowitz circumvents the 'colonialism' accusation with a not particularly imaginative tactic which he employs more than once throughout the book: specifically, he narrows the definition or context of this accusation down to a compass-point from which he has at least a chance of rebutting it. Thus we learn that:

Those who absurdly claim that the Jewish refugees who immigrated to Palestine in the last decades of the nineteenth century [note the earliest, most innocuous redefinition of 'colonizers', quietly narrowing the definition further] were the "tools" of European imperialism must answer the following question: for whom were these socialists and idealists working? Were they planting the flag of the hated Czar of Russia or the anti-Semitic regimes of Poland and Lithuania?[4]
Plaintive but equivocal. The Zionists were, as everyone knows, the one colonial regime that did not have a mother country. But wasn't that the very thing that gave rise to Zionism in the first place? Dershowitz seems to be squirreling the motion here. Since this is the entire basis on which Dershowitz denies that the Zionists were colonizers, it's plain that he has purposively located one difference and pretended that it makes all the difference. In his claustrophobically narrow interpretation, a single exception turns into an unbreakable rule.

In any case, he's accidentally correct in that this is the only respect in which Zionism differs from classic colonialism. All of the other features are there: land expropriations; population expulsions (more on that later); first-world cunning and technology used to defeat third-world tribalism; callous disregard for the political and national rights of the indigenous population; self-serving alignments with regional powers; [5] exploitation of power struggles among the native population,[6] and so on. But in Dershowitz's reformulation, the absence of a sponsor country is conveniently the one factor which disqualifies Israel from being a colonial state. It is the trapdoor through which Zionism escapes morally unsullied. As though the turpitude of driving the natives off their land was somehow mitigated by the fact there was no king somewhere directing the orders. Moreover, the fact that the Zionists certainly used an empire (Britain) to get what they wanted out of the Levant is surely a great inconvenience to those who deny that they were 'the "tools" of European imperialism.' As Finkelstein has observed: 'without the "foreign bayonets" of the British Mandate, the Zionist movement could not have established a toehold, let alone struck deep roots, in Palestine.'[7] Chaim Weizmann himself stated in 1917 that '[u]nder the wing of this Power [Britain], Jews will be able to develop, and to set up the administrative machinery which ... would enable us to carry out the Zionist scheme.'[8] And with respect to this issue the historian Arnold Toynbee was certainly in no doubt:
All through those thirty years [of the mandate], Britain lived from hand to mouth, admitting into Palestine, year by year, a quota of Jewish immigrants that varied according to the strengths of the respective pressures of the Arabs and Jews at the time. These immigrants could not have come in if they had not been shielded by a British cheveaux-de-frise. If Palestine had remained under Ottoman Turkish rule, or if it had become an independent Arab state in 1918, Jewish immigrants would never have been admitted into Palestine in large enough numbers to enable them to overwhelm the Palestinian Arabs in this Arab people's own country.[9]
Their own country? Dershowitz denies even this. 'After all', he tells us, 'there had never been a Palestinian state in this area. A Jewish homeland would not be carved out of a preexisting Palestinian state.'[10] I'm inclined to think of this rationale as a kind of verbal shell game for the exceedingly slow-witted. By reductively bringing an entire people under the category of a 'state' and then observing that such a thing did not exist, somehow it is adduced that their rights to a state also cease to exist. Finland, to take just one counterplot, was continuously populated by Finns since before the birth of Christ but never became a state until May 1918. Prior to this, it had been a kind of fiefdom of Tzarist Russia since 1809, and even before that had been under Swedish suzerainty from at least 1323. By Dershowitz's rationale, the purely incidental 'statelessness' of the Finns would equally have qualified them for Zionist dispossession. The fact of a people continuously populating a region for centuries seems - in his mind - to present no moral obstacle to the 'rights' of foreigners to turn up in their land and at short notice simply make up their own country inside someone else's. All of this is fine, apparently, as long as it's not done inside a 'state'.

Already I can heard the sound of breaking glass as the emergency rationale is yanked from its wall-mounted box - the Finns did not have 22 other states of their own from which they were not dispossessed, and so on. I find it difficult to believe that the Palestinian evictee living in his squalid camp on foreign soil, preserving the rusting key of the house he had been forbidden to return to and which (in many cases) had been given to someone else, was comforted by the fact that this fate had only befallen him, and not a Moroccan or a Yemeni. Note that the dreadful conditions in which many Palestinian refugees lived for decades are somehow always adduced to be the fault of the receiving country, and never of the expelling country. This rationale, as far as I can tell, is unique in the discourse of refugee crises. In fact, many of Israel's apologists fume that Arab countries did not oblige the Israelis by cleaning up the Zionists' mess and absorbing their refugees, and thus generally make their crime more photogenic and forgettable. Thus Dershowitz informs us that in the beginning '[t]he refugee issue of 1947-1948 was deliberately left unresolved by the Arabs as a tactic designed to destroy the new Jewish state'[11] (forgetting, presumably that the refugee problem was the direct result of a destroyed Palestine) and that even now the Palestinians have been 'kept in refugee camps for more than half a century to be used as pawns in an effort to demonize and destroy Israel.'[12] It ought to be beneath us to respond to an argument which suggests that the impoverished wretches living in the flavellas of south Lebanon and elsewhere pose some kind of existential threat to the world's fourth largest military power.

But Dershowitz's claim that Israel was not a colonizing power is belied even by Zionists themselves. As early as 1897 the Zionist Congress in Basle were planning what they called 'the colonization of Palestine by Jewish agricultural and industrial workers'.[13] Jabotinsky, in the aforementioned essay, was just as candid:
Zionist colonisation, even the most restricted, must be either terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonisation can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population - an iron wall which the native population cannot break through.[14]
His acolyte, the Revisionist Zionist Eliahu Ben-Horin, while suggesting that 'the Arabs of Palestine and Transjordania be transferred to Iraq, or a united Iraq-Syrian state', added: 'If the transfer and the colonization project are well planned and systematically carried out, the Palestinian fellah will get better soil and more promising life conditions than he can ever expect to obtain in Palestine.'[15] Similarly, in 1936 Moshe Beilinson proposed seeking British funding for 'a large development plan, which would enable the evacuation of large Arab tracts of land for our colonization, through an agreement with the fellahin.'[16]

So Dershowitz finds himself in the odd position of denying what Zionists themselves were saying openly. He also attempts to paint these early colonizers as mere innocent agrarians. To wit: 'They brought with them few guns or other means of conquest. Their tools were rakes and hoes. The land they cultivated was not taken away from its rightful owners by force or confiscated by colonial law'.[17] But strangely, there seemed to have been some local Palestinians who at the time took the view that this was all too innocent to be true. And it's difficult to believe that there were not plenty of non-locals who had no illusions about the direction in which these delightfully lawful land purchases were taking them. To quote Asher Ginzberg, after a visit to Palestine as early as 1893:
The Arabs, especially the town dwellers, see and understand what we are doing and what we want in Palestine, but they do not react and pretend not to notice, because at present they do not see in what we are doing any threat to their own future. ... But if we ever develop in Palestine to such a degree as to encroach on the living space of the native population to any appreciable extent, they will not easily give up their place.[18]
Again, we find that on matters like this even the worst demagogues can be more forthcoming than Alan Dershowitz. Here's some advice Menachem Begin once gave to just such a harmless agrarian:
My friend, take care. When you recognise the concept of 'Palestine', you demolish your right to live in Ein Hahoresh. If this is Palestine and not the Land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came.[19]
I must say that while reading this chapter I was gripped by a kind of suspense. Could the author make it to the other side of his own argument without stepping on an inconvenient historical truth? In Dershowitz's self-conscious writing one constantly perceives the dangerous minefield of facts he's trying to tiptoe safely through. There is, however, the occasional slip. For example, as part of his narrowed-down argument that the Jews of the first Aliyah (1882-1903) were not colonists, he avers that 'these Jewish refugees were far more comparable to the American colonists'.[20] The faux pas aside, it's fair to say that anyone familiar with the American colonists' slaughter of the native Indian population will recognise that this comparison would be as chilling for the Palestinians to hear as it would be unflattering to their Israeli conquerors. After about two pages, Dershowitz drifts away from a critique of the argument that 'Israel is a colonial, imperialist, settler state, comparable to apartheid South Africa'[21] (his own definition) and into digressions on Jewish in-migration that matter little to the substantive issues. Apartheid South Africa, part of the point he set out to refute, is never again mentioned. It's easy to see why. As soon as one begins to compare Israel with a well-armed, European-settler-based state lording it over an indigenous population which it corrals into increasingly shrinking bantustans, it's difficult to thereafter issue a denial of the obvious with a straight face. And the relationship was not merely an ideological one: Israel is known to have assisted the apartheid regime in circumventing sanctions[22] and thus helped prolong the life of a decaying racist oligarchy. Plus the two states have collaborated on a nuclear program, the most conspicuous evidence of which became available in September 1979 when an American VELA satellite detected a massive explosion in the Indian ocean which turned out to be a joint Israeli / South African nuclear test.[23] Neither of these rogue states were exposed or reprimanded, however. [24] The coziness was, as Jeffrey Blankfort has noted: 'a natural alliance; two societies that had usurped someone else's land and saw themselves in the same position, "a civilised people surrounded by threatening savages". The relationship became so close that South Africa's Sun City became the resort of choice for vacationing Israelis.'[25] Or, as a former Israeli official once told Seymour Hersh: 'there is a certain sympathy for the situation of South Africa among Israelis. They are also European settlers standing against a hostile world.'[26]


Displacement of Palestinians


The whole of chapter two is also a straw man. Asking the question 'Did European Jews displace Palestinians?', it bifurcates immediately into two rotten limbs. The first argument defines displacement exclusively in terms of (i) land theft that (ii) occurred pre-1948, for which of course there is no strong evidence. So Dershowitz wastes several pages discussing lawful land purchases and knocking down an argument nobody erected in the first place. Fully five passages are cited from 'the accusers' and none of them argue the point he energetically rebuts. (Even though the formulation of 'the accusation' is all Dershowitz's, he still can't seem to find mouths in which to place these words.)

When denying the seldom-mooted argument that the Zionists 'stole' their land from the locals, therefore, it's important for Dershowitz to be as literal-minded as possible. Allowing that much of the land was legally purchased from absentee landlords does not prohibit us from pondering the effect that purchases such as this had upon the local fellahin who had been tenants or labourers on the land for generations, and suddenly found themselves unable to compete with the purchasing power of the comparatively affluent, and aggressively acquisitive, new European colons. Absentee landlords such as the Sursock clan, for example, sold all of their vast tracts of land to the Zionists over a thirty-year period. Perhaps the most notorious sale took place in 1920, impacting 22 villages comprising 8000 peasants who lived off this land. According to David Hirst, '[t]he tenants among them - but not the labourers - received "compensation" of 28,000, precisely 3.50 for the lot. The Sursock sale was a famous and much-deplored transaction. But there were many others.'[27]

By the eve of the 1935 Arab Rebellion, the situation had become intolerable:
Legal - not to mention illegal - Jewish immigration had reached the record figure of 61,844 a year. Land sales were increasing; in 1933 there had been 673 of them, 1,178 in 1934. More and more peasants were losing their livelihood; yet already, in 1931, it had been estimated that 30,000 peasant families, 22 per cent of the rural population, were landless. Their average per capita income was 7 a year, compared with 34 for the Jewish farmers who replaced them. And the peasant families average indebtedness - 25 to 30 - was about the same as its average earnings. Driven from the land, the peasants flocked to the rapidly growing cities in search of work. Many of them ended up as labourers building houses for the immigrants they loathed and feared. They lived in squalor. In old Haifa there were 11,000 of them crammed into hovels built of petrol-tins, which had neither water-supply nor rudimentary sanitation. Others, without families, slept in the open. Such conditions contrasted humiliatingly with the handsome dwellings the peasants were putting up for the well-to-do newcomers, or even with the Jewish working men's quarters furnished by Jewish building societies. They earned half, or just a quarter, the wage of their Jewish counterparts, and Hebrew Labour exclusivism was gradually depriving them of even that. By 1935, an economic crisis, partly the result of uncontrolled immigration, produced Arab unemployment on a catastrophic scale. [28]
It appears that the Zionist population were utterly insensitive to the effects that their land purchases and encroaching presence had upon the dignity of the indigenous Arabs, and the delicate fabric of their simple society. Dershowitz's treatment of this topic, needless to say, effaces the human cost of these developments and remains faithful to the insensitivity.

The second branch of Dershowitz's argument coyly advances the outed Joan Peters thesis that no population displacement occurred in pre-mandate Palestine because there were essentially no Palestinians to displace. Bear in mind that Dershowitz could not have been incognizant of the fact that Peters' work had been discredited, for in the same chapter he unwisely quotes from Blaming the Victims, a volume edited by Christopher Hitchens and Edward Said, which contains the original paper by Norman Finkelstein debunking the Peters' book (a paper which Dershowitz later admitted to having read[29]). But the wishful thinking that infects so many of Israel's apologists got the better of him. The idea that pre-mandate Palestine might have been terra nullis was just too delicious to let go of, and so Dershowitz fashioned a compromise strategy: re-argue the Peters thesis, quote from her sources, bury Peters in a single footnote which denies having relied on her, and hope that nobody reads too thoroughly. (This is, of course, the chapter with the blushing Twain quote, and the one that features more unattributed quotations from Peters than any other.) And those who think that this is mere mind-reading may find the following sentence from Dershowitz enlightening: 'The extremist Palestinian mythology, which has become more embedded with time, is that in 1880 there was a Palestinian people ...' [30] This 'mythical Palestinians' trope is not only the core claim of the Peters thesis which Dershowitz, when put under pressure, claimed to doubt, [31] it is a claim which - again - is belied by contemporary Zionists themselves. Turning to Finkelstein, we learn that
Zionists who had already settled or sojourned in Palestine were keenly aware that it was not a 'land without a people', and the internal debates of the Zionist movement even at this early date reflected such an awareness. In 'Truth from Palestine' (1891) Ahad Ha'am observed that contrary to Zionist myth, Palestine was not desolate and all the land available for cultivation was already being worked by the indigenous Arab population. In 'A Hidden Question' (1905), Yitzak Epstein sarcastically chided the Zionist leadership for 'overlooking a rather "marginal" fact - that in our beloved land there lives an entire people that has been dwelling there for many centuries and has never considered leaving it.' In 'The Crisis' (1905), Hillel Zeitlin charged that what the Zionists bent on settlement in Palestine 'forget, mistakenly or maliciously, is that Palestine belongs to others, and it is totally settled.'[32]
Dershowitz's glib dismissal of pre-mandate Palestine as a blank slate onto which the Zionists could chisel their own society is the echo of Golda Meir's notorious 1969 statement that there were no Palestinians, or in her own words: 'It is not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering themselves a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.' [33] Such pitiless denial of the reality on their doorstep is not uncommon among Israelis. This reality is deflected and rationalized in a myriad prismatic ways. Knesset member Schmuel Katz has been quoted as saying: 'The Arabs of Palestine are not a nation. There is no "Palestine Arab" nation. They were and have remained a fragment of the large Arab people. They lack the inner desire, the spiritual cement and the concentrated passion of a nation.'[34] And then there is this hallucinogenic vision of Israel from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook: 'What does it resemble? A man left his house and others came and invaded it. This is exactly what happened to us. There are those who claim that there are Arab lands here. It is all a lie and falsehood. There are absolutely no Arab lands here.'[35] Turnspeak, redux. Dershowitz denies being a territorial maximalist of this complexion, but his ideological stance is not inconsonant with the core of such thinking. His argument that 'there has to be a statue of limitations on grievances'[36] is plainly calculated to exculpate Israel by making the issue turn on one slender hinge: that since the Jews were expelled from the Levant two millennia ago and the Palestinians have merely inhabited the land in the interim, their claim to it is, at best, historically equal. To greatly understate the matter, it must be said that the precedent set by revisiting a two-thousand-year-old grudge upon a civilian population who had nothing to do with the original expulsion is not one we would wish the world to follow. The sheer number of peoples the world over who could attack and invade each other based on such long-festering irredentism, redressing claims this ancient, does not bear thinking about.[37] Yet such a claim is the foundation upon which the State of Israel was built, and, not surprisingly, is the one most frequently trumpeted in the no-compromise language of extremism - a claim that is 'irrevocable', 'eternal', 'inalienable', an 'absolute right', and so on. In fact, the Israelis are merely the latest installment in a long line of peoples to have occupied the Levant from the Caananites through the Hebrews, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Persians, the Franks, and the Arabs. Palestine is a palimpsest, not a tabula rasa.


The Plan


Chapter three is one of revealing brevity. In a single page Dershowitz attempts to rebut the troublesome argument that the Zionist movement was 'a plot to colonize all of Palestine'.[38] Two problems rear up immediately, however. The first is that Dershowitz (once more) quickly moves to narrow the definition of 'Zionist movement' exclusively to that of the second Aliyah. Secondly, neither of the statements from 'the accusers' make any reference to a plot to colonize all of Palestine.[39]

Having thus started to ramble while merely explaining the charge, it's not surprising to find that Dershowitz's rebuttal wanders off the point altogether. He wastes all five paragraphs (i) describing the conditions which led to the second mass migration to Palestine; (ii) claiming that many attempts were made at rapprochement with the Arabs;[40] (iii) quoting an unreferenced poem from an unnamed Arab clearly concerned about the growing encroachment of foreigners on Palestinian land, and then immediately following this doggerel with a sentence beginning: 'Despite these provocations ...'.[41] The closest he comes to an argument is worth quoting:
In 1905, an Arab writer, Najib Azouri, published an anti-Jewish screed that reverberated throughout Palestine. It warned of a secret Jewish plot to establish a Zionist state "stretching from Mount Herman to the Arabian Desert and the Suez Canal." The young David Ben-Gurion worried that "Azouri's pupils" were "sowing the seed of hatred for the Jews at all levels of Arab society."[42]
What Dershowitz forgets to mention is that not only was Ben-Gurion himself a vigorous exponent of just such pernicious expansionism, he became even more territorially acquisitive as the years wore on. He responded to the 1936 Arab revolt, for example, by sensitively noting that '[t]he acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan' and in 1938 elaborated that 'after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine'.[43] In a meeting with officials in May 1955 Ben-Gurion floated the idea of annexing south Lebanon to Israel and transforming what remained of the country into a Maronite Christian state and therefore potential ally.[44] (Sharon and Begin were to give this same idea practical expression in 1982, with catastrophic consequences.) Israeli historian Avi Shlaim elucidates that during these more mature years - whilst plotting in 1956 with France and Britain to wrest control of the Suez canal from the Egyptian government - Ben-Gurion presented both countries with
a comprehensive plan, which he himself called "fantastic", for the reorganization of the Middle East. Jordan, he observed, was not viable as an independent state and should therefore be divided. Iraq would get the East Bank in return for a promise to settle the Palestinian refugees there and to make peace with Israel, while the West Bank would be attached to Israel as a semi-autonomous region. Lebanon suffered from having a large Muslim population, which was concentrated in the south. The problem could be solved by Israel's expansion up to the Litani River, thereby helping turn Lebanon into a Christian state. The Suez canal area should be given international status, while the Straits of Tiran in the Gulf of Aqaba should come under Israeli control to ensure freedom of navigation. A prior condition for realizing this plan was the elimination of [Egyptian President] Nasser and his replacement with a pro-Western leader who would also be prepared to make peace with Israel.[45]
Stop me if I'm wrong, but this looks awfully like the secret plot to establish a Zionist imperium stretching from Mount Herman to the Suez Canal that Azouri described and Ben-Gurion himself dismissed as hate-speech. For good measure, Ben-Gurion's ensuing conquest of the Sinai peninsula was rationalized by the now-customary 'historical right' to that land based upon some writings he discovered by Procopius (the emperor Justinian's chronicler) to the effect that an ancient Jewish kingdom had once existed on two islands in the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba.[46] And Shlaim also notes that '[i]n the period 1918-20 the Zionists put forward their own maximalist interpretation of the Balfour declaration. They wanted international recognition of the Jewish claim to Palestine, and they wanted the Jewish national home to stretch across both banks of the river Jordan.'[47]

No plot to colonize all of Palestine? Azouri's pooh-poohed conspiracy theory proved prophetic indeed.


Rejectionism


Dershowitz purports in chapters five and six to refute the related charges that 'the Jews were unwilling to share Palestine'[48] and 'the Jews [have] always rejected the two-state solution'.[49] Let's take these claims in order.

In attempting to address the first charge, Dershowitz meets it head-on with a digression. He wastes all five pages of this chapter arguing what we already know - that the Palestinians rejected the partition of their land, often violently. (The most notorious incidents were the Hebron and Safad massacres in August 1929, in which 133 Jews were murdered. Interestingly, this episode is described in as much detail in Fateful Triangle[50] by Noam Chomsky - a critic of Israel who explicitly accepts the two-state solution[51] and whom Dershowitz cites twice out of three quotes from 'the accusers' for the pertinent chapter - as it is by Dershowitz.) The charge Dershowitz was supposed to answer - the rejectionism of the Zionists - is never mentioned here, even for the purposes of an unargued denial. But it was clearly a reality. David Ben-Gurion had already stated his intention that 'we will expel the Arabs and take their places'.[52] And the King-Crane Commission, for example, reported that 'the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.'[53] Moreover, the much-promulgated apologetics concerning this period always reductively point out that the Arabs rejected the UN partition plan while Israel accepted it. In fact, as demonstrated, both sides rejected it - Israel was merely the side that did so secretly. Its overt acceptance of the UN plan was a tactical ploy to scrape together whatever legitimacy it could for the new state before it continued its expansion, and the documentary record bears this out. To quote from the leaders of the two Zionist camps (Pragmatic and Revisionist, respectively) at the time: 'Erect a Jewish State at once, even if it is not in the whole land. The rest will come in the course of time. It must come.' [54] (Ben-Gurion); and 'The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature of the institutions and individuals of the partition agreement are invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever.'[55] (Menachem Begin). The men who uttered these statements both became Prime Ministers of Israel, Ben-Gurion straight away and Begin in 1977, with predictable consequences for the Palestinian national rights which Dershowitz pretends they always accepted. He avers: 'compromise was always seen as a pragmatic necessity by the mainstream Zionists and their leadership. The reality of a Jewish homeland with a Jewish majority population was far more important than the size of that homeland.'[56] The 'compromise' was demonstrably a fraud, being merely a first step in Ben-Gurion's stated plan to devour the whole of Palestine. As for Begin, even this approach to the dispossession of the Palestinians was not extreme enough, being far too incremental and slow-moving for his liking. Both factions of the 'mainstream Zionists', as we can see, had very definite and uncompromising visions of what the 'size of that homeland' should be. It ruled out the possibility of a Palestinian state altogether.

When the Provisional State Council declared the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, it deliberately omitted to specify its borders - this was done largely at the behest of Ben-Gurion, who had the afore-mentioned expansion to all of Palestine in mind.[57] Today Israel is the only nation on Earth with no officially declared borders[58] - a state of affairs which, when considered alongside the brutal military occupation of the remaining 22% of historical Palestine, ought to give pause to anyone arguing that Israel has always accepted the UN partition, or that it has given up Begin's dream of 'Eretz Israel'. Israel has demonstrated time and again (in 1948, 1956 and most saliently in 1967) that the boundaries of a biblical homeland which it constantly crows about having a 'historical right' to always seem to mysteriously expand to fit the limits of its neighbours' inability to resist brute force. The only territorial withdrawals Israel has ever effected (specifically, the evacuation from Sinai in the early 1980s and from south Lebanon in 2000) have had nothing to do with seeking to exchange land for peace. Anwar Sadat's pre-1973 peace offers, for example, were repeatedly rebuffed by the intractable Golda Meir and thus made war inevitable. Israel has only ever withdrawn from conquered territories when the sheer force of the military counter-attacks it experienced made it not worthwhile staying. Conversely, the upsurge in agitation for territorial expansionism within Israeli society has always been correlated with military success. For example, the settler group Gush Emunim ('Bloc of the Faithful') and the Whole Land of Israel movement were unheard of before 1967; and former LEHI member Yisrael Eldad's proposals for an Israel stretching 'from the Nile to the Euphrates' were considered fringe rantings until the spectacular conquests of the Six Day War.[59]

Since Dershowitz has left us with no argument to rebut on this point, and since I have already dealt with the unwillingness of the pre-state Zionists to share Palestine, we can only move on to the next issue, the denial that the Israelis have 'always rejected the two-state solution'.[60]

As one might expect at this stage, the word always is key. And, as expected, Dershowitz does not remain faithful to his own formulation. Instead of analysing all moments throughout this conflict in which a two-state solution might have been feasible (there are not many), he confines the discussion entirely to the Arab response to the 1937 Palestine Royal Commission (or Peel Commission) report, essentially the first occasion on which the partition of Palestine was mooted.

Given the excellent results that have blossomed from Britain's other partition-based solutions - in Cyprus, Kuwait, the Indian subcontinent and Northern Ireland - it's hard not to get excited at the prospects of how Britain thought it might get out of this mess honorably. Since the Arabs boycotted the Peel Commission as an arm of the colonial power placing invaders on a par with the natives, the case heard by Britain was, strictly speaking, ex parte. And it is certainly as true of the Arabs that they rejected the Commission's partition recommendation as it was of the Zionists (see above). In fact, following the publication of the Commission's findings, the Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich in August 1937 openly expressed this rejection, stating that 'the scheme of partition put forward by the Royal Commission is unacceptable',[61] but it was decided for the afore-mentioned tactical reasons to express a public endorsement of it. The remaining question then is almost a rhetorical one: were the Palestinians right not to acquiesce in the dispossession of their own country? As Chomsky has pointed out, many people in the West are puzzled or dismayed as to
why The Palestinian Arabs, unlike the Jewish immigrants, were unwilling to accept a "territorial compromise", something less than what they hoped but a fair settlement, given conflicting demands. Perhaps the assessment is legitimate, but it is surely not hard to understand why the indigenous population should reach this conclusion. If someone were to take over your home, then offer you a few rooms in a "fair compromise", you might not be overwhelmed by his generosity, even if he were homeless, destitute and persecuted.'[62]
So what of the question which Dershowitz asks but does not take the trouble to answer: 'Have the Jews always rejected the two-state solution? [my italics]' Since the stated aims of the Zionist movement to 'expand to the whole of Palestine' directly contradicted both the 1937 Peel plan and the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine, it is clear that the Zionists' public assent to both was purely tactical, highly disingenuous, and never intended to be honoured. Unless we choose to believe that they were speaking honestly in public and dishonestly among themselves about their real intentions, then the conclusion seems inescapable that their position vis--vis the two-state solution was a rejectionist one. What of the years which followed?

In 1974 there occurred a breakthrough. The PLO, having by then secured both UN and Arab recognition as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, proposed the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, based in the West Bank and Gaza. On November 13, having renounced international terrorism, Yasir Arafat appeared for the first time before the UN. The PLO leadership had come a long way: it had acquired Arab recognition at the Rabat (1973) and Algiers (1974) summits; had softened its position on the nature of a Palestinian state; and without any inkling of whether it would have anything to show for it from the Israelis, had risked a schism within its own ranks (George Habash's PFLP refused to toe the moderate line). So how did the other side react? Israel responded to this historic opportunity by refusing to even turn up at the UN meeting. (Arafat was shown on television addressing the world and one vacant seat.) The refusal to even consider recognition of a Palestinian political entity representing a people with legitimate rights to national self-determination was by then a standard posture. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time declaimed that a Palestinian State 'would be the beginning of the end of the State of Israel'[63] and removed all doubt by later adding: 'I repeat firmly, clearly, categorically: it will not be created.'[64] The paucity of room this position left for negotiation became clear when Rabin affirmed that on the question of the West Bank, Israel would deal only with King Hussein of Jordan. The possibilities for a two-state solution were thus strangled at birth. There are two things to note at this stage.
1. Rabin's rejection of the PLO was not a principled refusal to negotiate with 'terrorists' in the absence of a genuine peace partner. We know this from what followed in the early 1990s when the exact opposite scenario presented itself in Madrid. Here, a non-PLO Palestinian delegation from the occupied territories presented workable peace proposals to an Israeli team helmed by Rabin. During these negotiations the Palestinians steadfastly stuck to the line that a solution should adhere to both UNSC resolution 242 and the rules set down in the Geneva Convention proscribing acquisition of territory by force. After ten rounds of the Madrid talks over nearly two years during which it became apparent that the Palestinians could not be weakened on these issues, Rabin finally fled from his peace partners in late 1993 and turned to Arafat, who, at that stage, had been sitting uselessly in Tunis for years. Rabin's perception, as cynical as it was accurate, was that 'the PLO was "on the ropes" and it was therefore highly probable that the PLO would drop some of its sacred principles to secure Israeli recognition.'[65] And so:
Unable to persuade the Palestinian negotiators to concede their rights, the Israeli and US negotiators rediscovered the PLO in 1993. ... Within two months of the Madrid team's rejection of the US draft DOP, the PLO stunned the world and announced that it had secretly and independently agreed in Oslo to a Declaration of Principles with the Israeli government. In this declaration, the PLO team agreed to give away what the Madrid team had valiantly struggled not to concede throughout two years of the Madrid talks.'[66]
Specifically: a halt to human rights violations, land expropriations and deportations; a commitment to adhere to the terms of the Geneva Convention; and especially a halt to the building of settlements, which, if allowed to continue sine die, would constitute a 'rolling abrogation' of any agreed solution. As Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart observed: 'While the local Palestinian delegation insisted in its negotiations with Israel that it would not accept any agreement that didn't include immediate dismantlement of the Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip, Arafat signed such an agreement behind its backs.'[67]

It was the beginning of what Robert Fisk memorably described as Arafat's 'garbage statelet in Gaza'.[68]

In the bloated corpus of victim-blaming that constitutes much discussion of the Palestinian problem, the Madrid peace negotiations feature very infrequently (Dershowitz does not mention them at all), and for obvious reasons: they were the starkest example of non-militant Palestinian fairness and adherence to international law running into a solid wall of Israeli intransigence, and were perhaps the best example of how Israel squandered its chances of reaching a fair and final settlement. The fanfare surrounding the 'success' of the signing of the fatally non-committal Oslo DOP on the White House lawn in September 1993 occluded Israel's failure to act on a real peace alternative when it was there for the taking. Despite this reality, Dershowitz is fond of recalling Abba Eban's hackneyed line to the effect that 'The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity'[69] Yet when it came to the Madrid peace conference, it seemed that
Abba Eban's old gibe against the Palestinians - that they never missed a chance to miss an opportunity for peace - was singularly inappropriate on this occasion and, if anything, could be turned against the Israeli side. Even the composition of the two delegations was indicative of the historic transformation that had taken place on the road to peace. Half the Palestinian delegates to Madrid were doctors and university professors. The Israeli delegation, on the other hand, was led, as the Syrian foreign minister Farouk al-Shara reminded the audience, by a former terrorist [Yitzhak Shamir], who in 1948 was wanted by the British for the assassination of Count Bernadotte, the UN mediator to Palestine. [70]
The Palestinians, interestingly, did not refuse to meet with Shamir because he was a 'terrorist', or even because he refused to recognise Palestine's 'right to exist' (the Likud has never renounced its call for an Israel extending from the Mediterranean to the Jordan or farther).

2. Rabin's 1974 decision to negotiate only with King Hussein also followed standard rejectionist practice. As was pointed out years ago by Chomsky:
[I]t is observed - quite accurately - that Israel has always been more than willing to negotiate with Arab states, while they have not reciprocated this willingness. It requires barely a moment's thought to perceive that Israel's willingness in this regard is strictly rejectionist, since the Palestinians are excluded. When a framework for negotiations has been proposed that includes the Palestinians, Israel has always refused to participate.[71]
Or as Nur Masalha has put it: '[i]f the Palestinians were merely a marginal local part of the larger population of Arabs, then they were not a major party to the conflicts with Israel; therefore Israeli efforts to deal over their heads were justified.'[72] This tactic goes all the way back to 1948. Shlaim observes: 'Acceptance of the UN [partition] plan implied acceptance of a Palestinian state, but in practice the Zionist leaders preferred to seek an understanding with one of the rulers of the neighbouring Arab states.'[73] Nor, in more recent years, was this exclusively the Rabin/Peres position, for it has been observed that '[b]oth Labour and Likud had a blind spot when it came to the Palestinians, preferring to treat the Arab-Israeli conflict as an interstate conflict.'[74]

The 1974 watershed was no thus different. When Rabin pivoted to face Jordan, the timing of the maneouvre fitted precisely this rejectionist pattern. When Jordan unilaterally rescinded any claim over the West Bank in July 1988, Rabin this time found himself with no choice but to finally face the local Palestinians, whom he eventually managed to ditch in favour of the more venal and malleable Arafat.
Since Israel had thus broadcast its contempt for the UN in 1974, an October 1977 peace conference was organized in Geneva by the two superpowers, who issued a joint Declaration calling for a settlement to the conflict, but took studious care to make no reference to UN resolutions. Note that recognition of Israel (without any reciprocal Israeli recognition of Palestine) was the only remaining card the PLO had to play, and putting it on the table before negotiations even began would have meant an unconditional capitulation. Therefore Israel's strategy of demanding it as a precondition for talks without offering anything in return represented a starting point of extreme rejectionism which greatly risked torpedoing peace talks which we are meant to believe Israel has always sought. Mansfield observes that:
The Israelis were resolutely opposed to any PLO presence until the PLO had publicly declared its willingness to recognize the Zionist state, and the United States, through Dr. Kissinger, had promised to support Israel in this matter. The Arab states were all committed to the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the PLO felt unable to declare its recognition of Israel as long as Israel rejected the principle of Palestinian self-determination. (Members of Mr. Begin's government had made it clear that in reality they were neither in need of, nor interested in the PLO's recognition, but that is a different matter.) [75]
Note Henry Kissinger's position. Following 1967, his own State Department had told him that withholding military aid to Israel would at least make Golda Meir's truculent administration more accommodating to Egypt's peace feelers over Sinai. Kissinger dismissed this argument, his own view being that if Israel was made to feel less secure, it would be even less willing to compromise, and so he settled on the continuing strategy of stalemate, despite Anwar Sadat's repeated warnings that the status quo would make war inevitable. When the pot finally boiled over, Egypt and Syria launched a devastating attack on Israel in October 1973, and as with the ludicrous Nobel prize he was awarded at the close of the Vietnam war, Kissinger's diplomatic skills were later lauded for bringing closure to a conflict he had helped to foment. As the above passage indicates, by 1977, incredibly, he had still learned nothing from the conspicuous consequences of his Israel-first stance.

Other rejections of the two-state solution include the gilted opportunity handed to Israel by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in March 2002, following the collapse of Ehud Barak's Camp David proposal, which we will learn more about later. The Saudi proposal offered the Israelis 'full normalization of relations' with the Arab world in exchange for 'full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with UN resolutions, including Jerusalem.'[76] What immediately struck commentators around the world about this plan was how strikingly similar it was to the one Israel claimed it offered Arafat at Camp David. There were other striking features: Arafat himself, probably believing that full normalization of relations with the Arab world would increase the pressure on Israel to reach a final peace, actively backed it, despite the fact that it did not even mention the refugees' right of return. Moreover, Hamas, one of Israel's most implacable enemies, surprised everybody by also endorsing the plan. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, spokesman Abu Shanab spoke of being 'practical' and said that the organization would 'cease all military activities' if Israel withdrew behind the 1967 borders. Hamas also declined to link the proposal to the right of return.[77] Even if Israel did not believe in the sudden moderation emanating from Gaza, it had nothing to lose and everything to gain by calling Hamas's bluff. So what happened next? Nothing. The White House and the Barak government went through the usual throat-clearing motions of regaling the move as a 'note of hope' before deciding to stick to the moribund Mitchell peace plan, which was at least US-controlled. In a scathing article, Israeli journalist Uri Avenery accurately forecast Israel's passive euthanasia of the Saudi peace feeler. 'If, in May 1967', he said, 'an Arab prince had proposed that the whole Arab world would recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it, in return for Israel's recognition of the Green Line border, we would have believed that the days of the Messiah had arrived.' He then added:
The preferred method [of quashing the proposal] is to kill the spirit of the offer slowly, to talk about it endlessly, to interpret it this way and that way, to drag negotiations on and on, to put forward conditions which the other side cannot accept, until the initiative yields in silence. That's what happened to the Conciliation Committee in Lausanne, that is what happened to most of the European and American peace plans.[78]
Israel's track record of renegotiating and hairsplitting a willfully vague (typically US-shepherded) peace plan is familiar to anyone who has watched the Oslo accords being death-marched from the 1993 DOP through the 1995 Oslo II Agreement, the 1997 Hebron protocol, the 1998 Wye Memorandum, all the way to the 1999 Sharm El Sheik Agreement, with increasingly shrinking concessions to Palestinians en route, while they watch their sincerely promised state slowly disappearing under Jewish-only settlements. So the fact that the Saudi offer was slowly starved of oxygen until nothing more was heard from it should come as no surprise. Note that for an Israeli political establishment that prefers to treat this issue as 'an interstate conflict', this slow-burning rejection of a comprehensive interstate settlement was an augmentation of even the usual rejectionism. Of course, visionless attack-dogs in the media such as Charles Krauthammer were on hand to hoarsely bark the old line that the proposal was 'just smoke and mirrors'. [79] But we can at least be grateful to the Saudis for a shining an illuminating light on the supposed bona fides of the Camp David proposals.



Go to page →
-1-    -2-    -3-    -4-    -5-    -6-    -7-    -8-    -9-    -10-    -11-    -12-    -13-    

 


Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment on this article:

Your Email address:
(Optional)


Your comments:
 




Notes:

1 See Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (Updated Edition), Pluto Press, London, 1999, p. 40n
2 Quoted in Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Penguin, London, 2000, p. 3
3 See Shlaim, p. 15
4 Dershowitz, p. 14
5 The most notorious of these alliances occurred during World War II when former prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's terrorist group LEHI sent two emissaries to Vichy-controlled Lebanon to meet with representatives of the Third Reich and submit an offer that his group would fight against the British on the side of Nazi Germany. It's interesting that against the backdrop of the Mufti of Jerusalem's foul rapprochement with Hitler, Dershowitz derides critics of Israel who accuse the state of Nazi-like treatment of Palestinians and whose placards use symbolism expressing this comparison. He informs us that '[i]f Palestinian supporters insist on using the swastika, they certainly cannot complain when this symbol is turned against them to remind the world of indisputable historical facts.' (p. 57). It might just be posited that neither can Israel-apologists like Dershowitz justly complain about of the conflation of the star and the swastika given the indisputable historical fact that one of the founding fathers of Israel proposed an alliance with the architects of the Final Solution and that this open secret, far from casting him into permanent disgrace, did not prevent him from rising to the rank of Prime Minister. (See Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators; and 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis. An overview of this infamous episode is provided by the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens article 'Berlin's Mandate for Palestine', in The Nation, August 1989.)
6 In November 1947, for example, Golda Meir met with King Abdullah of Transjordan, and tried to persuade him that her side would not oppose his plans to knock out the Mufti of Jerusalem and swallow the part of Palestine which the UN partition plan had assigned to the Arabs. This was pure duplicity since David Ben-Gurion, as we will see later, had no intention of letting any part of Palestine slip away. Israel primarily sought an understanding with King Abdullah, for at the time Transjordan's Arab Legion was the most powerful in the region and represented the greatest military threat. Thus it was essential to keep it inactive during the coming conflict with promises of a deal which the Zionists had no intention of fulfilling. Note however, that even if the arrangement had been sincere, it would have meant that the Zionists, having overtly agreed to the UN partition plan for Palestine, then covertly agreed to a separate and diametrically opposite plan which, if enacted, would have rescinded the Palestinian half of the partition plan and destroyed the Palestinian state it was intended to guarantee.
7 Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, London, p. 109
8 Quoted in David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, (Third Edition), Nation Books, New York, 2003, p. 162
9 Quoted in Peter Mansfield, The Arabs, Penguin, London, 1976, p. 239
10 Dershowitz, p. 33
11 Dershowitz, p. 89
12 Dershowitz, p. 87
13 Quoted in Hirst, p. 136
14 Quoted in Nur Masalha, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians, Pluto Press, London, 2000, p. 56
15 Ibid, p. 61.
16 Quoted in Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist Arab Conflict 1881-2001, Vintage Books, New York, 2001, p. 141
17 Dershowitz, p. 14
18 Quoted in Mansfield, p. 174.
19 Quoted by Omar Barghouti, 'Palestine's Tell-Tale Heart', in Roane Carey (Ed.), The New Intifada, Verso, New York, 2001, p. 176
20 Dershowitz, p. 14
21 Dershowitz, p. 13
22 See Chomsky, p. 21n; p. 35, footnote 41
23 See Seymour Hersh, The Sampson Option: Israel, America and the Bomb, Faber and Faber, London, 1991, p. 271 et seq.
24 With the demise of apartheid, Israel's rapprochement with South Africa soon cooled off. In recent years, for example, Israel threw a fit when the ANC moved to sell weapons to Syria through Armscorp, the state-owned arms manufacturer.
25 Jeffrey Blankfort, 'The Israel Lobby and the Left', in Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair (Eds.), The Politics of Anti-Semitism, AK Press, California, 2003.
26 Quoted in Hersh, p. 265.
27 Hirst, p. 150
28 Hirst, p. 198
29 Democracy Now debate, 24 September 2003
30 Dershowitz, p. 24
31 Democracy Now debate, 24 September 2003
32 Finkelstein, p. 95
33 Quoted in Shlaim, p. 311
34 Quoted in Masalha, p. 80
35 Ibid, p. 115
36 Democracy Now debate, 24 September 2003
37 Interestingly, Chaim Weizmann once unflatteringly referred to Jabotinsky as 'our own D'Annunzio' (quoted in Hirst, p. 157), after the Italian patriot whose escapades to recover the Adriatic city of Fiume - which he referred to as Italia Irridenta - gave birth to the term irredentism.
38 Dershowitz, p. 29
39 The quote from Edward Said does not mention the scope of Zionist conquest; the citation from Noam Chomsky simply states that the great majority of the Jews in pre-mandate Palestine were anti-Zionist. (See Dershowitz, p. 29)
40 An unlikely story, given the openly stated intentions of conquest which were later acted upon. To quote from Chomsky:
The American journalist Vincent Sheean, for example, arrived in Palestine in 1929 as an avid Zionist sympathizer, and left a few months later as a harsh critic of the Zionist enterprise. He found that the Jewish settlers "had contempt [for the Arabs] as an uncivilised race, to whom some of them referred as 'Red Indians' and others as 'savages'," and felt that "We don't have to worry about the Arabs" who "will do anything for money." They looked upon the indigenous population as "mere squatters for thirteen centuries" so that it should "be feasible for the Zionists, by purchase, persuasion and pressure to get the Arabs out sooner or later and convert Palestine into a national Jewish home," an attitude which he thought was "from their own point of view perilous in the extreme" (Fateful Triangle, p. 60)
41 Dershowitz, p. 31
42 Dershowitz, p. 30
43 Quoted in Chomsky, p. 161
44 See Shlaim, p. 133
45 Shlaim, p. 172. See also Masalha, p. 11
46 See Shlaim, p. 171, 179
47 Shlaim, p. 8
48 Dershowitz, p. 39
49 Dershowitz, p. 45
50 See Chomsky, p. 91
51 Or, in Chomsky's own words: 'the principle that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are human beings with human rights, equal rights; more specifically, that they have essentially equal rights within the territory of the former Palestine. Each group has a valid right to national self-determination within this territory.' (Fateful Triangle, p. 39)
52 Quoted in 'Palestine's Tell-Tale Heart' by Omar Barghouti, in Carey (Ed.), The New Intifada, p. 174
53 Quoted in Chomsky, p. 91
54 Quoted in Shlaim, p. 21
55 Quoted in Chomsky, p. 161
56 Dershowitz, p. 42
57 See Shlaim, p. 33
58 See Edward Said, 'Palestinians under Siege', in Roane Carey (Ed), The New Intifada, p. 32
59 See Masalha, p. 45
60 Dershowitz, p. 45
61 Quoted in Chomsky, p. 162
62 Chomsky, p. 92
63 Quoted in Shlaim, p. 330
64 Quoted in Chomsky, p. 70
65 Shlaim, p. 515
66 Allegra Pacheco, 'Flouting Convention: The Oslo Agreements' in Carey (Ed.), The New Intifada, p. 188
67 Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2003, p. 17 et seq.
68 Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Third edition), Oxford University Press, Britain, p. 689
69 Quoted in Dershowitz, p. 207
70 Shlaim, p. 489. Folke Bernadotte, incidentally, had been instrumental in the Wallenberg mission to save Hungarian Jews from Nazi extermination. The thanks he received from Shamir's LEHI was a bullet. (See Hirst, p. 272, et seq.)
71 Chomsky, p. 52
72 Masalha, p. 24
73 Shlaim, p. 29
74 Shlaim, p. 502
75 Mansfield, p. 310
76 Thomas Friedman, 'An Intriguing Signal From the Saudi Crown Prince,' New York Times, 17 February 2002
77 Robert Plotkin, 'Hamas would accept Saudi peace plan', San Francisco Chronicle, 28 April 2002
78 Uri Avenery, 'How to torpedo the Saudis', Counterpunch, 7 March 2002
79 Charles Krauthammer, 'Put it back in the Drawer', Time, 11 March 2002