May 2003 Journal

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Flowers from evil?

Israel and Palestine: Why they fight and can they stop?
Bernard Wasserstein
Profile Books, 2003

Professor Wasserstein begins this thought-provoking analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a famous quotation from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil): ‘Mon semblable, mon frère!’ (‘My fellow, my brother!’). This conception of the two contestants as ‘frères ennemis’, inextricably interlinked by historical destiny and geographical proximity, underlies the book.

Wasserstein argues that Israelis and Palestinians, far from being doomed to eternal conflict by immutable hatred and insurmountably antagonistic positions, are in reality motivated to fight each other by clearly definable interests and what they consider compelling reasons. The logical corollary is that these interests can be ascertained, defined and brought to a negotiated settlement.

The author is under no illusion that his thesis of the ultimate resolvability of the conflict looks, on the surface, less than convincing against the background of the current bloodshed. But in five closely argued chapters he shows how, at the deeper level of the underlying factors that determine the configuration of the conflict, the apparently irreconcilable positions of the two sides are, in reality, capable of reaching an agreed settlement.

Wasserstein examines five crucial areas: population and demographic change; society and social change; environmental concerns, especially the totemic issue of water resources; territorial borders; and the political dynamic driving the negotiations between the two parties. His analysis, based on a formidable mastery of the history and development of the conflict, is notably dovish in its rejection of the policies and attitudes of Israeli hardliners.

Professor Wasserstein’s demolition of the myth that the British split Transjordan off from Palestine to prevent the ‘rightful’ occupation of both banks of the Jordan by Zionists, for example, is a triumph of history over fabrication. He clearly believes that negotiating a compromise solution - not electrified fences and Berlin-style walls - is the only viable way to guarantee Israel’s security in the long term, so that in the end peace may come from the current evil.
Anthony Grenville

previous article:Still revealing Nazi victims’ fates: Germany’s International Tracing Service
next article:AJR ANNUAL REPORT 2002