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Monday, November 30, 2009

Derisionist history

The New Republic carries a lengthy and fascinating review by Benny Morris - who has moved somewhat to the Right after being classified as a 'revisionist' historian - of a new book by Avi Shlaim, perhaps one of the most extreme anti-Israel Jewish historians. I'm going to give you three small paragraphs of the review, show you a video about who Avi Shlaim is, and then hope that whets your appetite enough to go get an education. Here are the three paragraphs I wanted you to see from the review.
Zaim ruled Syria from March 30, 1949, to August 14, 1949, when he was deposed and executed by his colleagues. Working through American and U.N. mediators, Zaim proposed peace with Israel, and also that Syria absorb a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees in exchange for Israeli cession of the eastern half of the Sea of Galilee (according to the U.N. partition resolution, the whole sea was to be within Israeli territory) and, by implication, the Israeli-owned strip of land to the east of the lake, which included Kibbutz Ein-Gev.

Israel and Syria were at the time in the middle of armistice negotiations, and Ben-Gurion suspected that Zaim’s move was a ploy to delay Syrian withdrawal from Israeli territory that it had conquered during the war, which Israel was demanding. At the same time Ben-Gurion believed that Zaim was not trustworthy. (The Syrian was apparently a CIA agent and had previously been in intermittent contact with Haganah intelligence officers.) Ben-Gurion was in any case unwilling to give up half of Israel’s major water resource, and to surrender hard-won territory in exchange for a bilateral peace agreement on which the Syrians could at any time renege. He refused to meet with Zaim until the Syrians agreed to withdraw from Israeli territory, and the Syrians rejected the Israeli proposal to negotiate at the foreign ministers level.

According to Shlaim, Zaim gave Israel “every opportunity to bury the hatchet and lay the foundations for peaceful coexistence in the long term,” but an “intransigent” Israel and a “short-sighted” Ben-Gurion “spurned” his offer and “frittered away” a “historic opportunity.” A historic opportunity? I am not so sure, and in the absence of Syrian documentation the seriousness of Zaim’s offer and his ability to carry it out remain unclear. (Itamar Rabinovich, in The Road Not Taken, highlighted Zaim’s internal problems in this respect.) Equally unclear is what would have been the fate, after Zaim’s death, of any agreement that he had signed. It is also worth asking whether a semi-arid country should give up half of its main water resource (and territory) in exchange for a peace treaty of doubtful longevity with a country that has just attacked it. Shlaim, intent on pillorying Israel, does not ask this question.
Those sound like good questions for any peace deal today, don't they?

And who is Avi Shlaim? Let's go to the videotape.

Note that CNN describes Shlaim as an Israeli. Morris would disagree.

Read the whole thing.

The picture at the top is Benny Morris. Apparently CNN doesn't think he should be interviewed anymore.



At 5:34 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Benny Morris used to be on the Left and is now on the Right. His main issue with Avi Shlaim is his selective interpretation of history to justify his antipathy to Israel. Morris writes that Israel and its leaders can do no right in Shlaim's eyes. His recent work is not a serious review of the Middle East since 1917 but rather an outburst against Zionism and Israel. Someday, a more objective study of the region will be written. It just didn't come from Shlaim.


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