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A Cold And Ungenerous "Peace",
This review is from: Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process (Paperback)
The peace process that emerged from negotiations between Yasir Arafat and the Israelis in Oslo in 1993, and later signed in Washington, received an astonishing amount of media hype at the time and for many years after. Not a single cliché was left on the shelf, and no panegyric was deemed to extravagant to those who praised the Oslo accords to the skies. One exception was the late Edward Said who was highly critical from the outset. But then he, unlike the myriads of bumptious reporters and cliché-mongering commentators who ritually slobbered over it, had actually read the Oslo accords. It was clear to Said, and other Palestinians, that the accords were one sided, and essentially "a cold and ungenerous peace" dictated in Israeli interests. A year later as the Palestinians economy, territorial integrity and security had visibly deteriorated Said had this to say:
"In what world do Yasir Arafat and Abu Mazen live when all last year [1993-94] they kept proclaiming their trust and confidence in Israel, an Israel that has dispossessed our people, and continues to this minute to confiscate land, to increase settlements, kill and incarcerate thousands of Palestinians?"
In this collection of articles written throughout the period of 1993-95, Edward Said comments on the "peace" process as it developed, and the implications for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. His views were criticised by those who supported Oslo as destructively negative, but it is hard not to consider his comments, such as the following, as essentially correct: "There is no vision in the Israeli leadership, no sense that in the long run problems solved at Palestinian expense now will simply come back to plague both peoples in the future."
In addition to the central focus on the "peace" process Said finds space for a number of short biographical pieces, such as the one he writes about the remarkable Sara Roy (see Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict), an American Jew whose family had suffered losses during the Nazi Holocaust, though this did not stop her from having the breadth of humanity to write eloquently on the form of apartheid and de-development that the Israelis subjected Gaza too. A lesser known figure is also remembered, Hanna Mikhail, a Palestinian Christian of Quaker extraction, who left behind a successful academic career in the United States to play a principled and exemplary role in the Palestinian Liberation Movement, and died in 1976. One of the highlights is Saids essay "Decolonising the Mind" in which he underlines the limitations of those rejectionists and sycophants of Israel and the West amongst the Arabs, and calls on the Arab world to engage in a comprehensive, nuanced and critical study of Israel and the West.
Apparent throughout is the growing contempt that Said feels for how Arafat and his cronies conducted themselves. His thesis is that Arafat, fresh from his disastrous Gulf War diplomacy and short on funds from the Gulf States, undermined the Palestinian negotiators from the occupied territories by conducting secret talks with the Israelis in Oslo, essentially to save his own position. The accord Arafat and Abu Mazen (now his successor) negotiated was essentially a declaration of surrender as far as Palestinian interests were concerned. Everything for Israel, and at best vague statements for the Palestinians on crucial issues such as illegal settlements, refugees, economic development, institutions, and territory - the only concrete "reward" was Jericho and the un-settled parts of the Gaza strip that Yitzak "break their bones" Rabin (known as "Soldier of Peace" in respectable circles) had once hoped would sink into the sea. Functionally, vis-à-vis the Israelis Arafat was acting in the manner of a collaborator, and so it went on until the utterly paltry Israeli offer in the final settlement negotiations when he had no choice but to finally face reality, and refused to sign the final surrender.
If you want to avoid mouthing clichés about the 1990's peace process, and wish to have some crucial background for an understanding of current Israeli-Palestinian relations then this book is enormously important. Edward Saids critical intelligence, principled outlook and, in the best sense of the word, his critical voice are always worth listening to, and this book is no exception. It is a great crime that the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships did not take on board his calls for a just peace of equals.