Monday, 12 January 2009

Bernard Lewis and Avi Shlaim on dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict

Bernard Lewis, an internationally renowned expert on Islam and the Middle East, (whom I have posted on here) published an interesting article while back on the basic issues facing peace negotiations in Israel. Here are excerpts, but do read the whole thing:

The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, "What is the conflict about?" There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.
If, ... , the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.
PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that's not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.
Do read the whole article - it's not long - but contains information that is important to know.

For a more antagnostic view (admittedly on a different issue), also by an Israeli, see Avi Shlaim's article "How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe" (in the Guardian). The two articles don't actually contradict each other. Here's an extract:

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.
The article makes difficult reading, especially for someone like me who has a real soft spot for Israel. I don't want to believe it, and often I can tell myself that the person is biased or twisting things (that certainly happens alot from pro-Palestinian sources). But this guy is a professor of international relations at Oxford, someone who actually supports the existence of Israel and has served in its army!

The current conflict is a bitter pill for me to swallow, and I'm looking around for guidance on this issue ...


Hadassah said...

Thanks for pointing out the Lewis article. I mention it here:

Don't worry, I gave you credit for pointing it out :)

steph said...

This has been multiply attested by independent reliable sources and what he says is well known. All true.

Phil Sumpter said...

How do I verify either Lewis' or Shlaim's statements (not that they contradict each other, each dealing with separate issues)?