Professor Baruch Kimmerling's essay on the failure of the Middle East peace process coins the term `politicide' to describe Israel's denial of the Palestinians' right to function as a social, political and economic entity. An unintended legacy of Ariel Sharon's Peronist-style authoritarian government, he maintains, is the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections to the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council. To all appearances the situation thus remains as deadlocked as ever. As an inevitable consequence of Israel's hard-line policy the PA Legislative Council is now dominated by a faction which in its turn endorses politicide, that of the Jewish state.
The very nature of the Zionist undertaking, according to Kimmerling, must logically entail the politicide of the Palestinian people. The democracy which Israel has evolved is, in fact, a `Herrenvolk' democracy; that is, existing for the benefit of a privileged caste lording it over a subject population. The chauvinism of Israel's leaders is all the more suspect for being religion-based. Kimmerling does not recognise the 2,000 year-old `exile' from the Holy Land as favouring the Zionist cause. Indeed, most of the Jewish people who fled the East European pogroms of 1880-81 entertained no concept of a Biblical homeland to which they should return, choosing instead to move westward. The rigid adherence to scriptural fiat is thus seen as a crime against reason. Those guilty of it include the Gush Emunim settler movement and an obnoxious Christian fundamentalist clique in America which brooks no criticism of Sharon and his ilk and holds that the post-`67 capture of Jewish holy places by Israel was divinely ordained.
The narrative is organised around three landmark events, according to the author's interpretation, in the history of Israel's politicide against the indigenous Arab population. The first of these is the 1948 ethnic cleansing initiated by General Yigael Yadin's Plan B which advocated the destruction of Arab villages and the expulsion of their populations. Although formerly denied this is now recognised as historical fact. Kimmerling mentions Jewish revisionist historian Benny Morris who has demonstrated in his writings how the idea of population transfer figures largely in mainstream Zionist thinking, but he is criticised for failing to connect these ideas with the 1948 war. In fact Kimmerling's book predates an appalling interview (`Ha'aretz' January 2004) in which Morris admits the truth of the 1948 ethnic cleansing allegations made against Israel but insists that, in the interests of state-building, even the carnage of Deir Yassin was justified. `You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs', is his oft-quoted remark. Only a little less candid is Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's description of the Palestinians as a `cancerous manifestation' for whom `chemotherapy' would be the appropriate remedy. He is possibly advocating their expulsion rather than actual physical annihilation, and Kimmerling notes that when public figures in Israel call for the enforced transfer of Arab communities as a plausible solution to the conflict few eyebrows are raised.
The second major episode dealt with is Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 when Sharon was Defence Minister. For an extended treatment of the tragic events Noam Chomsky's masterly, harrowing `Fateful Triangle' is highly recommended, but here Kimmerling is concise and to the point. Despite the Israeli cabinet agreeing a plan to allow the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon, hoping to destroy Arafat's organisation rather than allow it to leave, instigated a 7-hour assault on Beirut which resulted in 300 mostly civilian casualties. When the PLO finally did leave Sharon refused to grant Arafat's request that multinational forces be brought in to protect the Palestinian refugees from the revenge of the Lebanese Phalangist militias whose murderous reputation was well known. After the militias' entirely predictable genocidal rampage in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila the Kahan inquiry commission found Sharon `indirectly responsible' for the massacre. We are reminded of an earlier chapter in which Kimmerling discusses the behaviour of Sharon's 101 unit during its 1953 assault on the Palestinian village of Qibiya where houses were detonated with the inhabitants still inside. Members of the unit subsequently denied their commander's claim that he ordered them to evacuate all dwellings before commencing the attack. As for the Kahan commission's recommendations, these were not heeded to the letter. Although resigning as Defence Minister Sharon continued to hold public office and, of course, would later become Prime Minister. We may note, in passing, how this highlights the issue of public as opposed to private morality in different societies founded on the Western democratic model. Whereas here in the UK sexually indiscreet behaviour can rebound catastrophically on holders of public office, in `democratic' Israel collusion in mass murder has no such damaging effect on the political careers of those held responsible.
Thirdly, Operation Defensive Shield was undertaken after a sucide bomber claimed the lives of 29 people in the town of Netanya in March 2002, although the operation had in fact been pre-planned and only required a pretext for it to be carried out. The relevant chapter focuses on Israel's destruction of Palestinian radio and TV stations, databases, documents, water-treatment facilities, power-generating plants, clinics, schools and universities. According to the terms of Kimmerling's analysis all this constituted a `politicidal' act on the part of Israel under Sharon's Premiership because, in destroying infrastructure and civilian institutions, it went well beyond the stated aim of `wiping out the Palestinian terror network'. The various phases of Defensive Shield including the battle in Nablus, the Jenin events and Arafat's virtual `last stand' in the Ramallah compound are gone over briefly. Kimmerling also considers Israel's policy of so-called targeted killings, not so finely targeted that they avoid civilian casualties and, significantly, even some members of the Israeli public now openly condemn such actions as war crimes. As a reminder of the first major incident of `politicide' discussed earlier there is a quote from a `Ha'aretz' magazine interview in which Sharon states that the 1948 war was `just one chapter' in the `War of Independence' which has yet to be concluded. Ever the discreet tactician Sharon does not elaborate but, given the events of that fateful year which have since come to light the implications are, to put it mildly, sinister.
This is not so much a biography of Ariel Sharon as a condensed history of the Middle East conflict, but Kimmerling's compelling and lucid account considers the salient points of Sharon's career and his role in several key events. Running to a concise 230 pages it will serve as an easily digestible, though challenging, antidote to the public image of its subject fostered by George W Bush's anodyne `man of peace' rhetoric. Finally, it should be emphasised that the author is clearly a man of compassion and, as such, quite undeserving of the cliched `self-hating Jew' brickbat which will inevitably be thrown at him by his least perceptive critics. Rather than end on a gloomy note he discerns the beginnings of an understanding on both sides that painful compromises will have to be made, something which, in the light of current events (June/July 2006), unfortunately does not seem imminent.