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The Rootless Cosmopolitan | The Nation

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The Rootless Cosmopolitan

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And then, in the year 2000, came the long-postponed "permanent status negotiations" themselves: first at Camp David and then, desperately, at Taba in the Sinai. Said, of course, had no time for the conventional American view that President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak virtually gave away the farm and that even then the ungrateful PLO and its leader, Yasir Arafat, refused the gift. This is not because Said had any sympathy for Arafat but because the original Camp David offer was--as Tanya Reinhart described it in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on July 8, 2001--so palpably a fraud. The Palestinians were to get 50 percent of their own land, chopped into separate and often non-contiguous cantons; Israel was to annex 10 percent of the land; and the remaining 40 percent was to be left "undecided"--but under indefinite Israeli rule.

This essay appears as the foreword to Edward Said's From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map, which will be published in August by Pantheon.

About the Author

Tony Judt
Tony Judt is director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. His new book, Postwar: A History of Europe...

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Six months later, at Taba, the Palestinians were offered an improved territorial deal, certainly the best they could ever have hoped for from an Israeli government. But the resulting Palestinian state would still have been utterly dependent on Israel and vulnerable to its whims; the grievances of Palestinian refugees were never fully addressed; and the contentious issues of sovereignty over Jerusalem remained unresolved. Indeed, even the last-minute Israeli concessions were still encumbered with what Said nicely terms "conditions and qualifications and entailments (like one of the endlessly deferred and physically unobtainable estates in a Jane Austen novel)."

Meanwhile Barak had continued to expand the population of the very settlements that his own negotiators recognized as a major impediment to agreement. Even if the PLO leaders had wanted to sell the Taba discussions to their constituents, they might have had difficulty doing so. The second intifada, which burst out following Sharon's meticulously timed visit to the Temple Mount, has been a disaster for the Palestinians, but it was born out of years--the Oslo years--of frustration and humiliation.

Taba, and especially Camp David, were the bitter fruits of Oslo, and in Edward Said's view the PLO's error in engaging the process in the first place was well illustrated by its inevitable rejection of the outcome, retroactively discrediting the whole strategy of negotiations. In an Al-Ahram article of June 2002, Said is scathingly unforgiving of the PLO apparatchiks and their leader, who for a while did rather well out of the power they exercised as the "Vichyite" governors of occupied Palestine under Israel's benign oversight. They were and are "a byword for brutality, autocracy and unimaginable corruption."

In other contributions to the same newspaper, Said writes that Arafat and his circle "have made our general situation worse, much worse." "Palestinians (and, by extension, the other Arabs) have been traduced and hopelessly misled by their leaders," who have neither high principles nor practical, pragmatic strategies. "It has been years since Arafat represented his people, their sufferings and cause, and like his other Arab counterparts, he hangs on like a much-too-ripe fruit without real purpose or position."

What, then, is to be done? If the Palestinian leadership is corrupt and incompetent; if Israeli governments won't even keep faith with their own stated commitments, much less the desires of their interlocutors; if there is so much fear and loathing on all sides, how should the two-state solution be implemented, now that Israelis, Palestinians and the international community--even the Americans--all at last accept it in principle? Here, once again, Said was at odds with almost everyone.

In 1980, when he first publicly pressed for a two-state solution, Said was attacked and abused from all sides, not least by Arafat's own Fatah movement. Then, in 1988, the Palestine National Council belatedly conceded that the best possible outcome was indeed the division of Palestine into two states--one Israeli, one Palestinian--echoing Said's insistence that there was no alternative to reciprocal territorial self-determination for Jews and Arabs alike. But as the years went by, with half of the occupied territories expropriated; with the Palestinian community a shambles and the putative Palestinian territory a blighted landscape of isolated enclaves, flattened olive groves and ruined houses, where humiliated adults were fast losing the initiative to angry, alienated adolescents, Said drew the increasingly irresistible conclusion.

Israel was never going to quit the West Bank, at least not in any way that would leave it in a coherent, governable condition. What kind of a state could the West Bank and Gaza ever constitute? Who but a criminal mafia would ever want to take on the task of "governing" it? The "Palestine" of PLO imaginings was a fantasy--and a rather unappealing one at that. For good or ill, there was only going to be one real state in the lands of historic Palestine: Israel. This was not utopia; it was merely hard-headed pragmatism shorn of illusion. The genuinely realistic approach lay in accepting this fact and thinking seriously about how to make the best of it: "Much more important than having a state is the kind of state it is." For the last decade of his life Edward Said was an unbending advocate of a single, secular state for Israelis and Palestinians.

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