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Benny Morris a renowned intellectual and expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict weighs in on why the Peace Process is stillborn

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Benny Morris – once a darling in progressive circles – has made an ideological tilt. Seen here in this recent interview in Israel | Photo: Igal Hecht

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In recent weeks, Israel’s new government has said it plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Is it a swipe at the peace process? Will it jeopardize any further negotiations? Is it a natural extension of Israel’s sovereignty? Or is it simply a confirmation that the peace process has long been dead?

To gain insight and context to the seven-decade long conflict, and to understand the motivation behind Palestinian leadership’s decision-making, I interviewed Benny Morris.

Born in 1948, the same year of Israel’s birth, Morris has for decades been a world-renowned Israeli historian, author and lecturer. For years, he was a welcome voice in progressive circles. His books were lauded by the Left – titles such as The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem; Israel’s Secret Wars; and One State, Two States.

In the early 2000s, after the failed Camp David peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and the subsequent second Intifada, Morris began to shift political gears. For progressives and the Left, he was suddenly a persona non grata on the topic of Israel.

What happened? Igal Hecht explores the progressive icon’s change of perspective.

When it comes to the Israel/Palestinian conflict, is it the Israeli/Arab conflict, or Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

There is a basic conflict ongoing between Israel and Arab – and if you like, even the Muslim – world. That still exists. All Arab societies around Israel detest and want to get rid of Israel. So, there is a conflict, even though there are peace treaties. The Palestinians only became known as the ‘Palestinians’ in the 1960s after the Six-Days War, basically. Before that, they were considered “The Arabs that lived in Palestine,” just as before that there were “Jews that lived in Palestine.”

I think there is an Israeli/Arab conflict, though the input of the Palestinian side and the focus on the Israeli/Palestinian side is sometimes greater and sometimes smaller. Today, of course, Israeli/Palestinian relations and the conflict is much more emphatic. In 1948, you could say it is the Israeli/Arab conflict. On and off, it’s been the Israeli/Arab conflict since then.

What is the significance of Oslo peace agreements in Israel, to left and right-wing politics?

Oslo was a major step toward Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation. A number of treaties were signed, Palestinian leadership and police took over the main Palestinian towns in Gaza and the West Banks, establishing their own government, called the Palestinian National Authority. That was one major significance of the Oslo agreements. Unfortunately, the agreements didn’t mature into a full scale peace treaty between the two sides, or a separation of territory into two states.

The agreement resulted in pushback both from right-wing Israelis and many Palestinians – Hamas leading them –opposed any deal with the Jews. They wanted all of Palestine for themselves.

The pushback included a great deal of terrorism, which resulted in harsh military reprisals by Israel as well. This ended the Oslo agreements. The Israelis stopped trusting the Palestinians. The Palestinians stopped trusting the Jews. Ever since then, it has been a regime of mild repression vis a vis the Palestinians in the territories, in which the Israelis control – part of the West Bank. And there has been a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which lives with Israel, but doesn’t like it, and aspires for more control and more territory.

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After Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, many on the left blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of the peace process. Was this the case?

I think both sides share responsibility for the collapse of the Oslo process, but I think the Palestinian side is far more important. I think, the Palestinian side entered the negotiations without real goodwill, and intended to root themselves out, without ever entering into peace with Israel. Yasser Arafat, essentially, refused to make peace. He didn’t want to reach an end of the Oslo process. So, therefore, the entire process was duplicitous. It was not a serious process.

I think this was illustrated in Camp David in the year 2000, and subsequently, Israel and the Americans offered the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

President Clinton offered his parameters, which gave the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank, 100% of the Gaza Strip, half of Jerusalem, and so on. The Palestinians said no. I think this is proof that Arafat had no real intent of reaching an agreement. I think this was the basic problem of Oslo… Arafat didn’t want to make peace. He wanted all of Palestine.

Taken Nov. 11, 2018, at the tomb of Yasir Arafat, in Ramallah, on the 14th anniversary of his death, now a national holiday in the Palestinian Authority. Arafat was the Chairman of the PLO | Photo: Dave Gordon

Is the two-state solution dead?

The two-state solution is probably dead – it is certainly dying – mainly because the Palestinian leadership has opposed, and continues to oppose, a two-state solution, but also because Israel has settled to territory and filled with West Bank with settlements, making a partition between the two people impossible.

That has to be the basis of a two state solution. So long as you have two million Jews living inside and outside the towns, and dispersed around the West Bank, it will be impossible to withdraw, because it has to protect those half a million Israeli settlers.

Look, the problem with the two-state solution as charted out by people like President Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Rabin, et cetera, is that you are basically saying Mandatory Palestine should be shared between the Jews and Arabs in a way that the Jews get 80% and the Arabs get 20%.

A Palestinian state with 20% of the land isn’t really statistically feasible, because the Arabs number something like five or 10 million – whatever the number is – they will say “this is too small for us…”

So, a real, viable two state solution would have to mean a Jewish state with the boundaries of 1949, and an Arab/Palestinian state which encompasses Gaza, West Bank, and Jordan.

Is Jordan a viable option?

Well, Jordan plus the West Bank, plus Gaza, might be viable. The problem, of course, is that there is monarchy ruling Jordan, and a minority of Bedouins who support the monarchy who control the levers of power. But, a Palestinian takeover of Jordan is not unfeasible.

So, then the whole notion of a two-state solution was doomed to fail from the get-go.

If it was along the lines predicated by Barak, Clinton and so on, yes, in my view.

Why haven’t progressives taken up the cause of 600,000 Syrians murdered in the past five years?

Because Arabs can kill Arabs, and nobody cares. They can throw bombs at funeral processions – which they do every day – no one raises an eyebrow. The Jews are supposed to be – and say they are – more moral or western. That jars people.

On a street corner in Jenin, Palestinian Authority, a book sale shows Hitler’s infamous Mein Kampf book in Arabic, as well as other anti-Semitic titles| Photo: Dave Gordon

Many progressive Jewish movements come out against Israel on a regular basis. Why do you think that is?

They don’t understand the Middle East, and they don’t understand the Arabs. The Arabs are not Norwegians. The Palestinians are certainly not Norwegians. Israel is – it’s very politically incorrect – as Ehud Barak says, “a village in a jungle.”

Look at Syria, Libya, Iraq, it is a jungle… For many Muslims, a Jewish state in the middle of the Arab world is something of a thorn in their side, or something caught in their throat, that they just cannot accept.

Yet, there are many progressive Jews who blame Israel for the rise of anti-Semitism.

Well, it’s an excuse for anti-Semitism. Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians – and there have been a large number of negative elements in it – is used to excuse anti-Semitism. Israel is the Jews, and this is how the Jews behave. Therefore, we are against them. But anti-Semitism predates Israel’s existence.

If it had been the other way around, and the Arabs were governing Jews in this land, what would have happened?

The Jews would have all gone to America, which is what they did when they were living under Arab rule in very large numbers, 800,000 of them – all these Jewish communities vanished under Muslim intimidation, expulsion, pressure.

Are progressives afraid to admit that Jews and other minorities would, for the most part, disappear under Muslim rule?

And Christians. Progressively, in the past two centuries under Muslim rule. They do not want ‘others’ in their midst. It has become politically unacceptable to say in the West about Muslim countries – partially because many Muslims have come and settled in the West.

But this is true about Muslim society. It rejects the ‘other.’ That’s why there are no Christians in Saudi Arabia. You aren’t allowed to visit Mecca if you are non-Muslim. The Vatican, a Muslim can go visit. But Mecca and Medina are off-limits for non-Muslims. This embodies this whole philosophy of ‘the other shouldn’t be allowed in our domain.’

A young man waves the flag of the Palestinian Authority, with homes in the background.

You used to be a darling of progressive circles; many ask what happened to Benny Morris?

I’ve become more aware over the past decade or two to the Islamic component to the conflict – a nasty component that has furthered the conflict, and made it less soluble. In that sense, it is politically incorrect, and has alienated me.

Igal Hecht is a documentary filmmaker and journalist who works all over the world. For more visit www.chutzpaproductions.com
 
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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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