While Israel’s decisive victories on the battlefield and overwhelming advantage in military force are crucial to its dominance in the Middle East, perhaps just as important is the success of its propaganda campaign.
Never has this been made clearer than in Tanya Reinhart’s new book, which offers a well-documented account of Israel’s culpability for the failure of the Oslo process and the current crisis. Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 explains not only how the Israeli leadership has pulled off this public relations achievement but the importance of that PR in bolstering support for the Israeli project, both outside and inside the country.
Drawing heavily on reports from the Israeli press that most US readers never see, Reinhart accomplishes the formidable task of adding insight into a subject that is written about endlessly, and doing so without equivocation but also without slipping into raw polemics. There is a refreshing bluntness and candor in her work that makes the political analysis particularly compelling.
Reinhart’s study details the gap between Israel’s mythology (the narrative of an embattled people fighting a defensive war against intractable enemies who will not stop until every last Israeli is pushed into the sea) and the actual history since 1948 (Israeli leaders’ drive to keep the maximal amount of Palestinian land and water with responsibility for the minimal number of Palestinians on that land). She points out that it would be hard for Israel to maintain support for its policy today, at home or abroad, if people understood the history. The mythology, however, has long been effective at creating sympathy, especially as it has proceeded to destroy much of Palestinian society over the past two years.
It’s not necessary, of course, that all the world believe that mythology, and most people around the world don’t. It is enough that two key populations–Israelis themselves and Americans–have swallowed the propaganda, for the key to a just solution to the conflict lies in those two countries, where citizens have the capacity to bring to bear on leadership the pressure that can make a difference.
Reinhart, a linguistics professor at Tel Aviv University who in recent years has increasingly turned to political analysis, does not flinch from difficult truths about her country as she sketches the contemporary Israeli political landscape: Since the occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, Israeli leaders have debated the best way to control those resources. The large Palestinian population made outright annexation of all the West Bank and Gaza Strip impossible; that would have forced the choice between a multiethnic, secular democracy and an explicitly colonial state. So two different approaches emerged. One was the Labor Party’s Allon plan, which envisioned annexation of up to 40 percent of the territories with some form of self-rule allowed for the remainder. The second approach, promoted by leaders like Ariel Sharon, aimed for more–if possible through the “transfer” of the troublesome Palestinian population out of the territories.