Review of Benny Morris’ book ‘One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict’

This review is by Brian Goldfarb.

Benny Morris – ‘One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict’

Yale UP, 2009.

By his own admission, Benny Morris has “moved marginally rightward”, as he says of himself in an article in The New Republic in 2009 reviewing and critiquing Avi Shlaim’s book “Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations”   (http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/derisionist-history?page=0,0). By the same token, he notes that the other Israeli “New Historians” – Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim – having started, like himself, on the left of Israeli politics, have “steadily drifted leftward (if that really is the direction of people expressing understanding and sympathy for the likes of Yasser Arafat and Hamas).” It goes further: Shlaim (who, though born in Iraq, is more British than anything else, having been largely brought up and educated in  the UK and is now a professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and a fellow of the British Academy) is less than complimentary about Morris’s work.

Thus, in the New Republic article cited above, Morris quotes a Shlaim article in which he says of Morris that he “is in danger of becoming…’a genuine charlatan’”…which is a very British way of saying that [Morris is] a charlatan”. We must also remember that Morris was born in the UK, which accounts for his excellent and untranslated prose style, and for his understanding of the very British nuance that Shlaim displays.

However, Morris’s latest book will do nothing to alter the views of those such as Shlaim and the other “New Historians” as to his supposed rightward drift. His last book, “1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War”, published in 2008, was clearly a return by him to a more conventional view, from the Israeli side, of the causes both of that conflict and of the Palestinian refugee situation, as readers of these pages will know. That is, he, in essence, repudiated his earlier views as to which side was the prime mover in the creation of the Palestinian exodus from what became post-1948 Israel. Now, claiming access to official (mainly Israeli) documents not available earlier, he argued that the Arab states encouraged this movement and, anyway, in many cases, civilians, hearing the sound of gunfire getting closer, did what unarmed civilians most often do in such situations: flee. Of course, there was an Israeli push, especially from Irgun, and, occasionally, even Haganah units overstepped the mark. But essentially it was, at worst, six of one, half-a-dozen of the other and there was no official Israeli government policy on expulsion.

Now, his history of the politics of the one state, two state issue will further alienate him from his erstwhile fellow “New Historians” and others of that ilk, all the way from IJV, JfJfP through to the whole of the BDS squadrons, to say nothing of the people who believe that they are advancing the Palestinian cause by demonising Israel.  Whether Morris will care is another matter.

The book starts with 7 pages of maps as to what the various proposals for partition would or did look like “on the ground”. This is followed by a short (27 page) chapter on “The Reemergence of One-Statism”, which is a tour through the mainly Arab and Palestinian retreat from “their at least superficial espousal during the 1990s of a two state solution and a reversion to the openly enunciated policy of the Fatah and Palestinian Liberation Organization in the 1960s and 1970s…which posited the elimination of the Jewish state and the establishment in its stead of an Arab-dominated polity encompassing the territory of Israel and the (at present) semioccupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.” (pp 1-2) Just try counting the number of contested and contestable statements in that sentence alone.

The bulk of the book (pp 28 to 160) is concerned with “The History of One-State and Two-State Solutions”. To this reader, this chapter was both interesting and essentially uncontroversial, to the extent that I was already aware of much of the history. Others may well find at least some of his interpretations interesting, to say the least. However, in my view, the real sting comes in the final, 40 page chapter: “Where To?” Perhaps unsurprisingly, he utterly rejects the one-state, bi-national, solution as likely to lead to, at best, a Jewish exodus. However, his own conclusion will, if read with care, come as a surprise, although there are those who will find it anathema.

He concludes, despite his rejection of the “one-state” solution, that the “conventional” two-state solution – a Palestine composed of the West Bank and Gaza, with a guaranteed access between the two, and an Israel essentially within the 1967 Truce lines, with or without land swaps – is no longer viable. The area that would be Palestine is far too small. His proposed solution is for an enlarged Jordan: one that will encompass Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan (again, with or without land swaps to allow for the major settlement bloc(s)). He squeezes this idea into the final two pages of his book, and summarises it thus: “…a partition of Palestine into Israel…along its pre-1967 borders, and an Arab state, call it Palestinian-Jordanian, that fuses the bulk of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the east bank…” (p. 199). It would be physically large enough, Morris argues, to allow for the Palestinian desire for expansion (ie, the Palestinian Right of Return) as well as for future development. Morris’s sting in the tail comes with this gem: “…the unification of the P[alestinian]N[ational]A[uthority] and Jordan, with its relatively powerful army and security services, would provide the possibility of reining in the militants (much as Jordan has easily and successfully reined in its own…militants over the past decades).” Hardly music to the ears of the one-statists!

It must be left to the reader to decide how viable such a solution would be, but to Engage and other supporters of the “Euston Manifesto” (of whom the author is proud to be one), it’s certainly a solution worthy of serious consideration and debate.

Morris offers one further satisfaction for regular readers of these columns: his preparedness to dub many writers on this issue and also the lobby as guilty of “mendacity”, including Mearsheimer and Walt and many other proponents of the one-state solution. For those without a dictionary to hand, “mendacity” is a very British way of calling someone a liar. It also carries clear implications of being a knowing liar.

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