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When Doves Cry | The Nation

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When Doves Cry

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Indeed, Gorenberg shows that the Eshkol government, intoxicated by the victory in the June war, wasted little time in creating new facts. Immediately after the war, Eshkol decided to annex East Jerusalem. A few days later, the Moroccan neighborhood of the Old City of Jerusalem was razed to make room for Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall; on June 27 the city was "unified" under Israeli sovereignty. On July 16, the first settler in the occupied territories installed himself on the Golan Heights; a month later, the Israeli Cabinet adopted a secret decision to permit "work camps" on the Golan Heights with the unstated possibility that they would become settlements. Even before the 1967 war was over, Minister of Labor Yigal Allon conceived his now famous plan to annex the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea shore, the Hebron hills and Jerusalem and to create a small Palestinian enclave on the mountain ridge north of Jerusalem. All these developments occurred before the Khartoum summit statement of September 1. While the strident rhetoric at Khartoum allowed Israel to justify expansion as a "defensive" measure and hardened Israeli popular opinion against giving up the occupied territories, it cannot have provided the impetus for the annexations and settlements that were already under way.

About the Author

Joel Beinin
Joel Beinin is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and a professor of Middle East history at Stanford...

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Gorenberg's description of Israel's approach to settlement as "a vacuum of strategy" is not persuasive. He tells us that civilian settlements were disguised as "temporary" military outposts or as work camps to avoid the appearance of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, a danger to which Eshkol was alerted by the legal counsel to the Foreign Ministry. Yet the new settlers were civilians, not soldiers. Many of them were driven by religious messianism, sometimes seizing land in "wildcat" actions that usually received retroactive government backing; the laborers they employed were primarily Palestinians living under military rule; and despite the official claim that these "outposts" were defensive in nature, they exacerbated the conflict with Palestinians on whose land they were built, thus requiring the presence of Israeli soldiers. There were tensions between settlers and the army that protected them, but Gorenberg does not mistake appearance for reality: "The army and the settlers were like a couple that fights in public and goes home together." Thus, as the rest of the world decolonized, Israel, Gorenberg writes, "was backing into colonialism in the occupied territories."

Like all forms of colonialism, the Israeli occupation fostered abundant self-delusion on the part of its masters. Moshe Dayan, who as defense minister presided over the "administered" territories, as Israel insisted on calling them, was convinced that Palestinians would eventually embrace him "as long as life improved economically for his subjects, as long he was a stern but kind ruler." In a conversation with Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan cited by Gorenberg, Dayan likened the occupation to "the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the girl he kidnaps against her will.... You Palestinians, as a nation, don't want us today, but we'll change your attitude by forcing our presence on you." In one of the book's most surreal scenes, Dayan plunders antiquities in a West Bank village under the watchful eyes of his mistress, a young Shin Bet agent and a crowd of Arab onlookers.

Perhaps the most important contribution Gorenberg makes in The Accidental Empire is to shatter the conventional wisdom that the election of the Likud government led by Menachem Begin in 1977 marked "a revolution in settlement." Rather, the Likud regime escalated trends established during the previous ten years of Labor Party rule. Gorenberg also debunks what he frankly calls "the myth of a reluctant Eshkol pushed by Orthodox settlers." This myth, he adds, would "later serve the purposes both of the Israeli left"--hoping to wash its hands of responsibility for the construction of settlements--"and of the young Orthodox rebels" who were proud to claim credit for the Jewish state's expansion into the biblical "land of Israel." In fact, Eshkol's "solution was to fall back on the method that Labor Zionism and his own past provided: to redraw the map one settlement at a time." By December 1967, the West Bank had become Judea and Samaria in official documents. The following year, Eshkol advised one of his intelligence operatives to encourage Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to "emigrate, beyond what is now going on without our intervention."

The settlement enterprise reflected to a considerable degree the ethos of Labor Zionism, as Gorenberg recognizes by terming the settlements "the colonial project of a sovereign state" and "a return to the struggle before statehood." Pre-state Zionism was, as Ben-Ami puts it, "a movement of conquest, colonisation and settlement" led by Labor Zionists. What made the situation after 1967 unusual was the alliance of Labor Zionist territorial maximalists--Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Yigal Allon and Yisrael Galili--with messianic religious Zionists inspired by the theology of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook. As Gorenberg demonstrates, the vast majority of Israel's Labor leaders had a soft spot for the settlers, in whom they saw the "pioneer" spirit rekindled, and whose wishes they indulged. For Kook's fundamentalist disciples, Israel's victory was "mind-boggling proof" of their doctrine, inspiring them to settle more land and to prove themselves equal, if not superior, to the secular Zionist kibbutzniks, whom they viewed as, at best, "good sinners." One of the ironies of this peculiar alliance, which Gorenberg recounts in vivid detail, is that the religious settlers' Labor patrons were "helping to build a community" that sought to throw them "on the ash heap of history."

In January 1967 President Lyndon Johnson asked Eshkol what kind of Israel he wanted. The Israeli prime minister reportedly replied, "My government has decided not to decide." Despite his own considerable evidence that Israel's indecision was intended to permit territorial expansion on the sly and without making potentially problematic public commitments, Gorenberg takes Eshkol at his word.

Consequently, the chief flaw of The Accidental Empire is its thesis, suggested by the title: that the territorial conquests of 1967 and the settlement project they enabled were unplanned--"born of a national evasion of choices," as Gorenberg puts it. This argument is premised on the assumption that most Israelis (with the notable exceptions of Begin's Herut, or Freedom, Party, and the Labor Zionist Ahdut Ha'avodah, or Unity of Labor Party) accepted the 1949 armistice line (the Green Line) as Israel's final borders and looked forward to a life of normalcy. The settlement project, he suggests, emerged gradually, as Israel's leaders, helped along by belligerent Arab rhetoric, put off any decision regarding the final status of the territories, often for domestic political reasons rather than because of some overarching plan. Gorenberg repeatedly undermines his thesis, as when he observes that Dayan's plan for permanently integrating Israel and the West Bank "remained as a blueprint of what would happen, bit by bit, in the absence of annexation or withdrawal." In another revealing passage, he writes that "the purpose of settlement, since the day in July 1967 when the first Israeli settler climbed out of a jeep in the Syrian heights, had been to create facts that would determine the final status of the land, to sculpt the political reality before negotiations ever got underway."

If it was not the "rejectionism" of the Arab states at Khartoum that drove the occupation and the settlement project, what did? A good part of the answer lies in the nature of the state of Israel before 1967. Many Israelis across the political spectrum shared the conviction that all of historical Palestine belonged to the Jewish people and that the 1949 borders were a temporary compromise. For such people, the "accident" by which Israel acquired its empire was an unexpected opportunity, even a sign of divine intervention.

As Ben-Ami points out, Ben-Gurion made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the 1949 borders. He envisioned partitioning the entire Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between Israel and Iraq. On several occasions Ben-Gurion and Dayan discussed "completing the job" left unfinished in 1948-49. They were especially interested in annexing southern Lebanon up to the Litani River and making peace with a rump state dominated by Maronite Christians. Ben-Ami sharply criticizes Ben-Gurion for helping to "create the psychological conditions for the Six Day War" (although Ben-Gurion was one of the few Israeli statesmen who called for withdrawal after the war).

Ben-Ami refers to recently published documents proving that in the years before 1967, "Yitzhak Rabin intentionally led Israel into a war with Syria." Dayan told Yedioth Aharonoth reporter Rami Tal in a posthumously published interview that Israel initiated at least 80 percent of the clashes with Syria in the "water war" of the 1960s. Moreover, after the Syrian air force had been disabled early in the 1967 war, settlers in the Hula Valley lobbied the Israeli government to initiate a land assault on Syria. These Labor Zionist "pioneers," according to Ben-Ami's interpretation of this encounter, "simply wanted to acquire more land in the Golan."

In 1967, Tom Segev provides nine pages of evidence for a strong streak of irredentism in Israeli political life. Additional lands were sought not only by the followers of Begin but also by Ben-Gurion's proteges (Dayan and Peres), army officers (Rabin) and political figures (Yisrael Galili and Yigal Allon) affiliated with Ahdut Ha'avodah, a current in the Labor Zionist movement that split from and then rejoined the Labor Party. Unlike Gorenberg, Segev does not regard the leaders of Ahdut Ha'avodah as marginal figures, a reasonable judgment since Galili and Allon were ministers in the government that launched the 1967 war. Segev also challenges Gorenberg's understanding of pre-1967 Israeli political culture, noting, "Many Israelis were old enough to remember the days before the Green Line; it was difficult for them to internalize it as a permanent arrangement."

Allon, commander of the Palmach and of the southern front in the 1948 war, never forgave the Israeli government for preventing the army from conquering all of the West Bank in 1948. Ben-Gurion favored such a military initiative, but he could not convince the rest of the government and considered this "a cause for mourning for generations to come." This story was published with great fanfare in the Israeli press in 1966. On the eve of the 1967 war former chief of staff Yigael Yadin gave a rare interview in which he too expressed regret that the Old City of Jerusalem and other territories were not conquered in 1948, when Israel had the chance.

Shortly after the "dovish" Eshkol became prime minister in 1963, army deputy chief of staff Rabin described to him Israel's desired borders: the Jordan River in the east, the Suez Canal in the west and the Litani River in the north. If we replace southern Lebanon with the Golan Heights, these are the territories Rabin conquered as chief of staff in the 1967 war. Segev's account of the army higher command's view of Syria is consistent with Ben-Ami's recollection from the time of his own military service that all the soldiers on the northern front "knew" the Golan Heights "would have to be taken over." Ben-Ami concludes that Israel was "dragged by the hyperactivism of her army" into the 1967 war.

Does this mean that Gorenberg is entirely wrong and that Israel had a strategy to attack its Arab neighbors, occupy and annex their lands, and establish settlements before the 1967 war? There is no evidence that there was anything more than contingency plans for such an adventure. But Ben-Ami and Segev describe a political and psychological ambience in which it was acceptable to speak quietly about such things and widely believed that they were desirable. However, Labor and liberal Zionists thought it preferable to refrain from the demagogic statements for which Begin was notorious in order not to upset the West, especially the United States. Hence, when the opportunity arose, there was no need for the government to issue direct orders any more than there was in 1948, when Palestinians were driven from their lands. Army commanders knew they would be given retroactive permission to conquer as much land as they could. And civilians knew how to take the initiative in establishing settlements and locating allies within the government, even as there were sometimes clashes with other elements of the government over settling in a particular location or with excessive fanfare.

Like many who cherish the illusion of a "beautiful Israel" in the period between 1949 and 1967, Gorenberg seems to think it was possible to shut down the settler-colonial element of Zionism once a Jewish state was established. Many Zionist leaders saw Israel as a democratic, socially progressive, culturally innovative state seeking to grant equal rights to all its citizens. This was the dominant image of Israel in the West until the 1980s. Many Americans still embrace it.

However, many elements of the exclusivist Jewish settler-colonial project remained in place and were legally institutionalized after 1948. Most Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel lived under military law until 1966. They were not permitted to join the Histadrut trade union federation until 1965. About half of their agricultural lands were confiscated to make room for new settlements or expanding existing ones. Jewish immigrants were legally privileged over Arab citizens. The Palestinian refugees, in violation of UN resolutions and international law, were prevented from returning to homes and lands where they had been settled for hundreds of years. Hence, as a recent Stanford University doctoral dissertation by Shira Robinson argues, from 1949 to 1967 Israel was caught in the contradiction between the ideals of a liberal state and the realities of a settler-colonial enterprise.

Ben-Ami endorses a version of this important insight. Before leaving to head the Israeli delegation to the Taba talks, he said that Israel must choose "between being a state or a Yishuv [Jewish community]." He decries the culture of "illegalism" or "creating facts" in the face of legal constraints, which characterized Israel's settlement activity in both the pre-1948 and post-1967 period. While he believes this was necessary before 1948, he bemoans the fact that it had not been suppressed as late as 2000.

In fact, this remains the consensual Israeli approach to this day. Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which was expressly intended to consolidate Israeli control over much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, reflects this well. Rather than negotiate with the Palestinians as stipulated by the now defunct "road map" or through any other framework, Sharon simply relied on Israel's overwhelming military power to impose what he considered a proper solution for the Gaza Strip--a solution that has turned the territory into a large, lawless prison camp with no prospects for economic development or political independence. Before Sharon's stroke, the Israeli press reported that he intended to carry out similar measures in the West Bank after the March 28 parliamentary elections. (The former prime minister's successor, Ehud Olmert, adopted this strategy as his platform in the elections.) He would have dismantled a few dozen smaller settlements and annexed about 30 percent of the West Bank, including greater East Jerusalem and all the land to the west of the separation barrier Israel has been building since the summer of 2002. The Palestinians would have been permitted to proclaim a "state" in the remainder of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is an arrangement, as Sharon knew very well, that no Palestinian leader could accept.

The persistence of the "illegalist" settler-colonial element in Israeli political culture--historically central to the ethos in Labor Zionism and adopted by messianic religious Zionism after 1967--has led some to conclude that a two-state solution will not provide a satisfactory resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They contend that the thick network of infrastructure and settlements (some of them small cities) established by Israel in the West Bank during nearly four decades of occupation creates a "matrix of control," in the words of Israeli activist and anthropologist Jeff Halper, thereby making a contiguous and viable Palestinian state impossible. Even if a Palestinian state were established, Israel would dominate it economically and militarily, and the great majority of Israelis would continue to have the kind of patronizing attitude toward the Palestinians that Ben-Ami expresses. Nor would the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip insure equal rights for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, now about 19 percent of the population, as long as Israel defines itself as the state of the Jewish people.

The critique of the two-state solution, which has been elegantly articulated by Tony Judt and Gary Sussman, as well as by the late Edward Said, founders on two realities. The first is that neither the one-state nor the two-state solution is on the horizon. The heated polemics on this question more than occasionally evoke the least attractive qualities of an academic seminar. The Israeli government's effort to impose a solution unilaterally has met with approval, as ever, in Washington, and the Palestinian national movement is, for its part, in disarray, with the near disintegration of the Palestinian Authority, the collapse of Fatah's hegemony and the recent electoral victory of Hamas, whose ideal is a very different kind of one-state solution than that of the secular left. The second obstacle to the one-state solution is the clear preference of both peoples to live in separate states: In all polls taken on this issue a firm majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip support two states, as do the majority of Palestinian Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.

The settlements and the Israeli separation wall are enormous obstacles to a viable two-state solution. But they were put in place by acts of political will. In principle, they can be removed by political decisions. What is uncertain is whether any coalition of forces can be assembled in Israel that can muster the wisdom and courage to undertake this. It would be greatly facilitated if the international community and the media ceased to propagate obfuscations about the nonexistent "peace process." This has become a propaganda term that conceals Israel's continued settlement expansion, the construction of the separation barrier declared illegal by the International Court of Justice and the fact that the Gaza Strip remains under occupation practically and according to international law. These harsh realities and their appalling consequences for the Palestinian people must be confronted. The Bush Administration, which has endorsed very nearly any Israeli outrage against the Palestinians in the name of the "war on terror," is hopeless on this, as on many other Middle East policy questions. The Democratic Party has a poor record on Israeli-Palestinian issues and cannot be considered a serious alternative.

Where, then, is the hope for a peaceful solution to the conflict? I believe that it lies in the young Palestinians, Jewish Israelis and internationals who have been fighting shoulder to shoulder in weekly battles against the Israeli security forces since late 2003 to halt the construction of the separation wall. This struggle has been led by Palestinian villagers in unheralded places like Budrus and Bil'in, organized in the Popular Committee Against the Wall. Although their successes have so far been minor, these actions have demonstrated that trust is built through joint political action and that whether there will eventually be two states or one, coexistence, not separation, is the foundation for peace.

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