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Dissent or Assent? | The Nation

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Dissent or Assent?

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Here he is, for example, hailing the first intifada: "What PLO terrorists failed to achieve over 20 years, teenagers with slingshots have achieved in eight months. They have put Palestine on the moral map, alongside Israel." And a little further on, chiding the Israeli right: "When Prime Minister Shamir says of the intifada that it is a new form of warfare against the State of Israel...he is saying something absurd. But the absurdity is widely accepted--for haven't the Arabs been at war with Israel for 40 years now, always refusing (Egypt the only exception) to accept Israeli statehood?" Both these remarks unobtrusively take for granted the notion--widely believed in the United States, though nowhere else--that neither Palestinian Arabs nor their political representatives have shown any readiness for a diplomatic settlement with Israel since its founding in 1948. On the contrary: As the Israeli historian Simha Flapan first showed in The Birth of Israel: Myth and Reality (1987), after the initial failure of resistance, the majority of Palestinian Arabs accepted partition as inevitable, even if not desirable, and were ready to live peacefully either alongside Israel or, in the case of the refugees, under Israeli sovereignty. The failure to reach a settlement after 1948 was due primarily, in Flapan's words, to David Ben-Gurion's "active strategy to prevent, at all costs, the creation of the Palestinian state as called for in the UN Partition Resolution." As for the "20 years" (1967-87) Walzer refers to, supposedly barren of any response from the other side to Israel's constant desire for peace, his implied history is no more accurate. The Egyptian peace offer of 1971, the PLO-authored Security Council resolution of January 1976 and the Saudi-sponsored Fahd plan of 1981 were all serious proposals, which Israel either contemptuously rejected or did not even acknowledge.

About the Author

George Scialabba
George Scialabba is the author of Divided Mind and, most recently, What Are Intellectuals Good For? and The Modern...

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Another sly formulation, this one about Camp David 2000: "Arafat refused to make peace and survived; Barak failed to make peace and was defeated (we can learn something about the constituencies of the two men from this contrast)." What we are meant to learn is that Barak and the Israelis were serious about a just settlement, while Arafat and the Palestinians were not. As Tanya Reinhart in Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 and Naseer Aruri in Dishonest Broker: The US Role in Israel and Palestine both demonstrate, this is untrue. Barak's offer did not divide Jerusalem, did not give Palestinians effective control of a contiguous 90 percent of the West Bank, and required that UN Resolutions 194 (mandating the return of Palestinian refugees) and 242 (mandating Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza) no longer be the basis for negotiations. It was not the "generous offer" of mainstream mythology.

The first of the "four wars of Israel/Palestine" is the "Palestinian war to destroy the state of Israel." Some Palestinians wage this war with bombs, others by insisting on their "right of return." The latter is a baseless claim, Walzer implies; after all, "Palestinians are still in camps because a decision was made, by their own leaders and by the adjacent Arab states, to keep them there: this was a way of insisting that Israel's independence war was not yet over." Shouldn't a devotee of moral complexity at least have taken note of an additional explanation--that they are "still in camps" because the Israeli government decided, in defiance of its legal and moral obligations, in 1948 (and again in 1967, when an additional 150,000 Palestinians fled) not to allow them to return to their homes but instead to expropriate and settle their lands? And moreover, that if they had been allowed to return home, it is not at all impossible that two generations of misery would have been avoided without having jeopardized Israel's independence?

"The first war has to be defeated or definitively renounced. Critics of Israel in Europe and at the United Nations have made a terrible mistake, a moral as well as a political mistake, in failing to acknowledge the necessity of this defeat." The suggestion that European critics of Israel are indifferent to its threatened destruction is another slander. What explains this one is the unwillingness of those Europeans to line up behind America in support of Israel's extensive land grabs in the West Bank and murderous aggression in Lebanon. That cannot be, Walzer would like his readers to believe, a matter of principled concern for Palestinian self-determination or international law, much less simple decency; it must be moral fanaticism or sheer dislike of Israel.

I have cited several statements in Arguing About War that seem to me inaccurate, misleading or biased, invariably in Israel's favor. They are representative of many more. Twenty-five years ago, in a review of Just and Unjust Wars, Noam Chomsky tellingly observed that Walzer all too often "assigns a special status to Israel and reconstructs the moral world accordingly." Sadly, Walzer has not profited from that comradely criticism. On the contrary, to judge from Arguing About War, the distortion of moral perspective that Chomsky noted has become chronic, and probably terminal.

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