Land of the Hart: Israelis, Arabs, the Territories and a Vision of the Future
The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile
Les Palestiniens du Silence
With Maalot and the subsequent Fedayeen raids only a few months behind us, and with the future of the Palestinians as clouded as ever, these three books demand attention. After the seemingly senseless deaths, with no direct negotiations between Arabs and Israelis yet in sight, these works at least raise the questions that lie at the heart of the Arab-Israeli tragedy. They may also provide some answers.
To those who know Arie Lova Eliav only by reputation—that is, as the most prestigious dove in Israel—his book will come as something of a surprise. It is certainly not the work of a starry-eyed idealist who believes that good will is a sufficient condition for peace. True, he presses Israel to allay Arab distrust by taking the initiative in making concessions. However, upon closer examination many of these concessions appear quite mild, rather conservative in fact. To be fair to Eliav, we must bear in mind that, although it has been updated since, his book was written before the Yom Kippur war and that it was then the only book of its kind by a high-ranking Israeli politician.
In view of the climate prevailing within the Labour party and in Israel itself when it was written, Land of the Hart is a very radical book. We must remember that when it was published in Hebrew in 1972 Israel had unquestioned military superiority. Thousands of Soviet advisers had been dismissed from Egypt. The US government considered Russian influence in the Middle East to be in decline; it viewed the stalemate as advantageous to its own interests, and it therefore no longer pressed Israel to make territorial concessions and was content to let it act as a gendarme in the region. The Israelis shared with virtually everyone else the belief that the Arabs would never dare to go to war because they could not hope to win. Israel’s good fortune, including new emigration from North America and an economic boom aided by cheap labor, gave rise to much complacency and perhaps even some arrogance.
Not surprisingly the Israelis concluded that they had no urgent reason to change the status quo: why not hang on to the occupied territories and wait for the Arabs to negotiate without preconditions? Eliav’s book—part visionary tract, part practical guide to policy—is therefore all the more remarkable, especially when we consider that it was written by a former military officer, diplomat, and secretary general of the Labour party who is now a member of the Knesset. Whatever disagreements one may have with his specific proposals, one can only admire his passion for peace.
Eliav’s views fail to break away from the conventional Israeli perspective, above all in his treatment of the Palestinian problem. Here he follows the Labour party line which has always been to refuse to deal directly with the Palestinians and was opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization being represented at Geneva except as part of the Jordanian delegation. He writes …
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