Definer of Zionism defends it in new book

The agreements that the Palestinians and Israelis must strike to achieve peace are obvious. They must compromise on mutual borders, the Palestinians must give up the right of return and the Israelis must dissolve most of their settlements. Yet, every time peace looks within reach, violence ensues and to many, Israel is to blame.

Arthur Hertzberg’s latest book addresses both phenomena. He explains why an agreement is not imminent and why Israel is not to blame for each new spiral of violence. After spending the past 50 years defining Zionism, the Jewish scholar defends it in his latest book, “The Fate of Zionism: A Secular Future for Israel and Palestine.”

The time could not be riper for such a defense.

Hertzberg spends the first half of this book covering the history of the Jewish state’s establishment and first 50 years. While this is familiar territory to readers of his previous book, “The Zionist Idea,” it is important material for those seeking a fuller understanding of the current conflict in Israel.

He then easily dispatches the most prominent of Israel’s critics. East Coast academics-cum-Middle East policy experts, including Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt and the recently deceased Edward Said, bear the brunt of his attack. In what is the liveliest part of the book, he goes beyond the simplistic explanation that all of Israel’s critics are anti-Semites, to refute each of their arguments with facts and logic.

In his hunt to confront the most vehement forms of contemporary anti-Zionism, Hertzberg cast his eye to Europe, where he cites mainstream British newspaper The Guardian, which regularly publishes articles asserting that Israel has no right to exist. It’s much of the same across the continent from Greece to France, where Hertzberg interestingly explains that those on the left have failed to define their attitudes toward Jews in the modern era and are resentful of accusations that they stood idly by during the Holocaust.

It’s Israel’s critics who use the sword and not the pen that Hertzberg has a more difficult time answering. In fact, he doesn’t even bother. He simply claims that the divisions between the militant Palestinians and Israelis are so intractable that it will take generations to arrive at a full settlement.

As he has done since first suggesting two years ago in Foreign Affairs magazine that a piecemeal solution was the way to go, Hertzberg maintains that reasonable plans such as a two-state solution, territorial concessions, a divided Jerusalem and no right of return put forward by moderates on both sides of the conflict won’t lead to a negotiated solution. This is because the Palestinians can’t control the militant factions that are unwilling to accept the existence of Israel, forcing Israel to control the extremists itself.

Hertzberg’s recommendations are modest. As he concedes, they are half-measures designed only to calm things down. He suggests that the international community dictate and enforce a boundary between the two peoples while preventing the Palestinians from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. The United States should cut Israeli aid by the amount Israel spends on settlements each year and resist the temptation to send troops.

The consequences of inaction are grave since he considers it only a matter of time before the Palestinians use weapons of mass destruction in Israel. But it remains unclear why even a fanatical organization such as Islamic Jihad would resort to placing a dirty bomb in Tel Aviv if the consequences would prompt Israel to take acute actions, such as a forced population transfer.

Either way, he holds out little hope for the success of a grand settlement or a panacea. Ultimately, Hertzberg is calling for the religious extremists on both sides to be excluded from the peace process. However, with each new round of suicide bombings, moderates with influence on both sides lose some measure of power.

This important book advances the debate on why peace won’t arrive in Israel soon. It’s a depressing but refreshing idea. laying the blame at the door of the Palestinians and those Arab countries that still can’t find it within themselves to coexist with Zionism.

“The Fate of Zionism: A Secular Future for Israel and Palestine” by Arthur Hertzberg (160 pages , HarperCollins Publishers, $19.95)