Joel Beinin’s review of my book The Obstruction of Peace and Edward Said’s Peace and Its Discontents (MER 201) is not a review of either book, but rather an attempt to advance a thesis, namely that both authors fail to recognize that the marginalization of the Palestinians and an unequal peace with Israel are the result of “a concrete balance of forces.” Instead, he claims we focus on peripheral factors: “an avoidance of fundamental criticism of Zionist practices” (Aruri) and a lack of resolute will and incompetent leadership on the part of the Palestinians and Arab states (Said).
I will let Professor Said speak for himself, but what is most puzzling about Beinin’s critique of my book is that he claims it misses what it in fact painstakingly spends 13 chapters and over 300 pages arguing, namely that “the Palestinians have been confronted with two protagonists intent on denying them a national existence and sovereign order” (20). Had he done the irreducible minimum of reading required for writing a critical and informative review, he would have recognized that all US plans for a political settlement discussed in the book reflect a balance of forces consistently favoring Israel and the US. When Beinin writes that the book “critically reviews US policy from the Gulf War to the Cairo accords,” one wonders how the much broader scope (1967-1995) could have been missed. US plans predating the Gulf war include the Rogers Plan (pp. 45, 74-75, 134), Kissinger’s diplomacy (pp. 45-48, 75-76, 172, 255-256, 292-293), Camp David (pp. 74-78, 111-115, 130, 218, 254, 259-261) and the Reagan and Shultz plans (pp. 25-26, 54-56, 74-80, 97-98, 117, 120-134, 147).
Chapter one provides an overview of US policy beginning with the end of World War II (not the Gulf war as Beinin claims) through the Reagan years, arguing that the evolution of US global strategy was predicated on the assumption that the Middle East is US turf and that a succession of presidential doctrines and codicils from Truman to Reagan underlined and advanced that assumption. Moreover, chapter 2 argues that the Gulf War “completed the process of recolonization of the region” signaling a shift in approach whereby direct American military action (long considered a taboo in the region even among the US Gulf regimes) replaced “reliance on local gendarmes equipped with US weapons and training” (primarily Israel) to extinguish potential threats to US hegemony in the region (p. 61).
Chapter three demonstrates how the US utilized its role as “sole superpower” and “chief conciliator” to ensure that a resolution to the Palestinian-Arab-Israeli conflict would not be conducted under “international auspices” but rather through a “peace process” conducted under US supervision (p. 71). The “special relationship and strategic alliance during and after the Cold War” are outlined in chapter 4, which argues that the relationship has been strengthened and enhanced during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton presidencies, and that Israel’s strategic relevance and US influence in the area would flourish even further if a settlement of the conflict was attained.
Chapters five through seven explore how US policy from Carter to Bush to Baker, increasing Israeli repression, and an unfavorable political climate for the Palestinians at the global, regional and local levels, culminating in the defeat of Iraq, provided the US with an opportunity to finally impose a settlement based on “American unilateralism” over “internationalism,” resulting in the Madrid conference followed by the Oslo and Cairo accords.
All of this reveals in a crystal-clear manner that the thrust attributed to the book by Beinin is very different from the real thrust of the book. For anyone who read the book, Beinin’s claim is mind-boggling and simply cannot be substantiated. He writes: “[Aruri’s] argument that the flaws of the DOP are due to the avoidance of fundamental criticism of Zionist practices is overstated.” In fact, what Beinin considers “overstated,” is really a comment accounting for four pages in a 357-page book, that if a just peace is to be realized it will also require a debate on the nature of the Israeli state and require Israel “to make hard choices between peace and the settlements, between peace and a permanent exile for the refugees, between peace and Jerusalem as the eternal capital, between peace and Israel as a perpetual Western colonial project.”
What I actually say about the DOP is that “the accords must be viewed in the context of the recently achieved total American hegemony over the Middle East, resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequences of the Gulf war.” Thus, the accords were a result of US/Israeli strength and Arab/Palestinian weakness, i.e., the balance of forces, which Beinin claims I wrongly ignored. I also cite incompetence on the part of the Palestinian leadership and the lack of a negotiating strategy. In fact, the book argues that Palestinian leaders have provided legitimacy to the illusion of peace, even as they retained the option of saying “no” to a process which would inevitably lead to their people’s permanent dismemberment and bantustanization.
Beinin’s position on the agreements is less clear, suggesting progress has been achieved in his remark that “twenty-five years ago assertion of the existence of a Palestinian people was a bold political innovation. Debate now centers on the form which Palestinian political oppressions will take.” One wonders whether those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza now face two occupiers, as well as those in the diaspora whose rights were ignored, share Beinin’s delight with the prospects for future political expression.
What makes Beinin’s review so perplexing, however, is not that he reviewed a book that he clearly did not read, but rather the fact that he uses the guise of a review to mount a personal attack directed against Edward Said and myself, bent on portraying us as ‘leftist critics” wrongly concerned with “ideology” and “political will” and ignorant of political realities, who are out of step with the “new thinking and debate” on the “form which Palestinian political expression will take.” He accuses us based on his perception of our respective political activities and not on our writing. He identifies me as “one of the two Palestinian-American members of the Palestine National Council” when there were eight such members in 1991, the year I became a member for the first time after having been vetoed numerous times during the 1980s by Arafat. I challenge Joel Beinin to produce a single sentence in my writings or speeches during the past three decades that can be construed as supportive of Arafat’s structure “that led to Oslo.”
To anyone who is aware of Said’s and my lifelong commitment to a genuine and just peace between Arab and Jew, as well as our consistent record of criticism of the Palestinian leadership, Beinin’s suggestion of complicity is not only baseless, but reflects that of someone who for some unknown reason has an axe to grind. Beinin’s suggestion of complicity on the part of Said is even more ironic given his recognition of Said’s “exemplary record of publicly criticizing the PLO for its lapses” as a member of the Palestine National Council from 1977 to 1991.
Beinin’s review would have been better suited had he substituted evidence for unsubstantiated claims; analysis for distortion; and valid criticism for personal attacks. I was surprised to find in Middle East Report such personal attacks on Edward Said and myself pass for a scholarly review.
North Dartmouth, MA
The original text of Beinin’s review essay stated that “The most significant new material in The Obstruction of Peace is a critical review of US policy from the Gulf war to the Cairo accords.” This was misleadingly abbreviated in the editorial process to “The Obstruction of Peace critically reviews US policy from the Gulf war to the Cairo accords.” The editors apologize for this error.