Review: “Israel/Palestine: How To End The War Of 1948” by Tanya Reinhart

The late and much missed Tanya Reinhart wrote this 2002 analysis at height of the second intifada during the darkest days of the violence. It is extremely solid and many of her arguments here have been borne out by more recent events. Although one should always be wary of making predictions, many of her warnings have — unfortunately — come to pass. First of all, her deconstruction of Israeli war crimes, quoting almost entirely from Israeli media sources is devastating. She proves here how — contrary to the Israeli propaganda line, accepted in the western media — at its outset, the second intifada was in fact an unarmed, spontaneous, civilian uprising. The reaction of the Israeli army — systematically firing on unarmed demonstrators, killing dozens before the Palestinians fired a single shot — escalated the situation into an armed confrontation. Critically, she points out that the first suicide bombing inside Israel did not take place until over a month into the intifada: November 2nd, 2000. On October 4th (a mere week into the intifada), the Palestinian death toll already stood at 60. Another of her key points is that, far from being the “spontaneous defence against terrorism” of the Israeli propaganda line, the re-invasion of the Palestinian Authority areas had been long planned by Israel. Again, she convincingly backs this up with evidence from the Israeli media.

She also demolishes the myth of Camp David, showing that it was Barak that effectively destroyed the mainstream Israeli peace consensus, not Sharon. The best section of the book is the part in chapter 9 titled The Two Poles in Israel’s Politics. Here, she irrefutably shows how mainstream Israeli politics is in fact divided not between “hawks” and “doves” but between the road of apartheid under the guise of endless negotiations (the Alon-Oslo road) and outright ethnic cleansing (often with the slogan “Jordan is Palestine” — Sharon).

Here, she quotes from an article she wrote in 1994, which seems amazingly prescient in light of the recent rise of Hamas: “From the start, it has been possible to identify two Israeli conceptions that underline the Oslo process. One is that it will reduce the cost of the occupation, using a Palestinian patronage regime, with Arafat as the senior cop responsible for the security of Israel. The other is that the process should lead to the collapse of Arafat and the PLO. The humiliation of Arafat, and the amplification of his surrender, will gradually lead to loss of popular support. Consequently, the PLO will collapse, or enter power conflicts. Thus, the Palestinian society will loose its secular leaderships and institutions.”

But she also argues fairly convincingly that the majority of Israelis support withdrawal from the occupied territories and forced evacuation of the settlements.

The appendix — another 1994 article — is also brilliant. Even back then she saw the inherit problems in Oslo, describing the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement signed in Cairo as the beginning of apartheid. This analysis has by now been totally borne out, with even mainstream figures like Jimmy Carter describing Israel’s rule in the occupied territories as apartheid (although ANC veterans describe it as far worse than apartheid these days).

The only really negative point of this book is in its copy-editing: it is pretty poor in several places and there are what appear to be editor’s notes mistakenly left behind. But there is a second edition out by now and I assume these problems are fixed there.

In reply to the previous review by Bren Carlil [see comments section below]: it appears you belong to that category of thinkers who “refuse to be grounded by the reality” of what is actually happening, as opposed to state propaganda. You have swallowed several key Israeli government propaganda themes whole. Firstly the idea that the “security fence along or near the Green Line” protects Israel. In fact 80% of the apartheid wall is built on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, mostly deep inside the West Bank. This is illustrated clearly by the fact that the length of the wall is more than twice the length of the Green Line. If it was genuinely built with the security concerns of normal Israelis in mind, it would have been built on the Israeli side. In fact the wall is, in large part, the latest in a long line of land-grab policies, following a long held doctrine of “maximum land, minimum Arabs”, something that goes back to the “a land without a people” Zionist delusions of the 1920s and 30s (but never abandoned since then).

Suicide bombs in fact stopped because Hamas and the other armed groups went into a truce. And since coming into power in the PA, Hamas has continuously offered Israel a comprehensive ceasefire, but Israel has simply refused to even discuss the idea, preferring instead to escalate its attacks and siege on Gaza, forcing Hamas’ hand. As to the main points of the rest of your argument, you may be right, but you fail to mention that you are essentially weighing the difference between apartheid (“Sharon intended to annex the major settlement blocs”) and ethnic cleansing (Olmert in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank).

Reviewed 3 April 2008.

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One Response to Review: “Israel/Palestine: How To End The War Of 1948” by Tanya Reinhart

  1. asa

    A part of my review was a rebuttal of another review on by one Bren Carlill, posted on the Facebook “Visual Bookshelf” app to which I originally posted this review. I have pasted the entire thing below for convenience [Asa]:

    “In her book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, the late Professor Tanya Reinhart suggested an immediate withdrawal by Israel from all of the Gaza Strip and 90% of the West Bank (it was written before Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza was announced), arguing that only by doing this would the two sides be ready to negotiate the core issues, such as water and Jerusalem. Reinhart’s argument lacks pragmatism in that she failed to outline and defend any possible negative outcomes of such a move. Thus, her idea is be attractive to those of her readers who are already convinced that an immediate unilateral withdrawal by Israel is the best way to produce a negotiated peace. Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, but not from the West Bank – Reinhart suggested Israel immediately vacate 90% of that territory – thus, discussing her argument is still valid.

    A unilateral withdrawal certainly had the potential to create movement in the peace process, but there are, however, probable serious consequences of such a withdrawal. There is little, if any, chance that Israel will make such a move without ensuring its interests are protected – especially since the withdrawal from Gaza has failed to protect Israel’s security interests. Though Reinhart added an aside that withdrawing from 90% of the West Bank will remove Israel’s ability to defend the remaining settlements, she made no comment on the ramifications of this. And, given the almost total lack of security control the PA has over territories under its authority, it is hard to see any consequence of Israel withdrawing other than a flood of Palestinian terrorists and rockets into the country. Yet Reinhart insisted “the only way is to begin right now”.

    Given the fact that a state will not make a unilateral action until preparations for the consequences of that action have been made, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to ‘disengage’ Israel unilaterally from the Gaza Strip are worth highlighting. On the surface, at least, Sharon’s plan seemed similar to that of Reinhart’s. Reinhart viewed withdrawal (also from most of the West Bank) as a precondition for negotiations (thereby removing one of Israel’s strongest negotiating assets). Sharon, on the other hand, viewed negotiating with the Palestinians as a process of no value. This was because, in Sharon’s opinion, those Palestinians able to assert security control (a key Israeli demand) are unwilling to do so, whereas those who claim to be ready to do so are politically and militarily unable. Indeed, the disengagement plan reads “Israel has come to the conclusion that there is currently no reliable Palestinian partner with which it can make progress in a bilateral peace process.” When viewed in this light, one can see the differences in the two plans. Sharon judged Gaza as not economically, militarily or culturally worth the associated costs of retaining. However, parts of the West Bank are. Hence the political windfall of Bush’s letter to Sharon suggesting that the Palestinians should not expect full Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank. It is my opinion that Sharon intended to annex the major settlement blocs and, should the Palestinians not be ready to negotiate (in Sharon’s eyes), he would, at some point in the future, have presumably announced a disengagement from most of the West Bank. After Sharon left the scene, Ehud Olmert announced just that – but the rocket fire from Gaza and Lebanon in 2006 convinced him the plan was foolish. The ongoing construction of the security fence along or near the Green Line and around the major settlement blocs protects Israel from suicide bombers, but not rockets. Until a solution is found for the latter, Israel isn’t going anywhere.

    Ultimately, Reinhart belonged to that category of thinkers motivated by what they think should be done, but refuse to be grounded by the reality of what is actually possible. Hope is great, but hope without pragmatism is foolishness.”

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