The Treason of the Intellectuals
Yediot Aharonot (Israeli Hebrew daily), June 2, '03
By Sever Plocker (pronounced Plotzker; a leftish liberal on political
matters and rightish conservative in economic matters, and a leading
commentator of the newspaper)
(English by Moshe Kohn)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has accepted President Bush's vision of "Two
States for Two Peoples," and has thereby reconciled himself ("High time,"
Sharon said) to the need to divide Eretz Yisrael [M.K.: the historic Land of
Israel] between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The profound
significance of this partitioning for the State of Israel is back to the
1967 borders less 5-6%, including, among other things, a settlement freeze,
and the dismantling of outposts.
The new Palestinian leadership headed by Abu Mazen has also accepted the
partition principle: the profound significance of partition for the
Palestinians is renunciation of the demand for the return of 
Palestinian refugees to Israel proper and unqualified readiness to live
peacefully in the state of Palestine alongside Israel as the Jewish people's
state. Not merely "two states for two peoples," but also "two peoples in two
Those who stubbornly reject any compromise with Israel are the intellectual
elites of the Arab world. Widely held among these elites, and through them
among significant sectors of Arab public opinion, is the discredited notion
that the Jews are not a nation, but only a religion, and since they are a
religion they have no need for a sovereign state of their own. This is
accompanied by categorical denial of any historical connection of the Jews
with Eretz Yisrael within borders of any sort. To the best of Arab writers
Zionism is nothing less than cruel colonialism.
Arab thinkers continue to regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "the
heart of the Middle East problem," even though there is not an iota of truth
to this. The economic, social, and technological backwardness of the Arab
Middle East - as analyzed in a special United Nations report on human
development in the Arab states - stems from the absence of democracy, the
oppression of women, and the corrupt regimes. Full Israeli-Palestinian peace
is important for both Israel and the Palestinians, but it will not solve the
domestic problems of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.
Throughout the Arab world the "Palestinian problem" still serves, as it did
40 years ago, as an excuse for conservatism, silencing of criticism,
dictatorship, isolationism. Tyrants and religious clerics use it to tighten
their holds: they are not interested in resolving the conflict, because then
they would have to confront the real miseries of their citizens.
Readiness to part with territories for the sake of peace has been the banner
of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli intellectual community for a
generation now. It played a crucial role in persuading Israeli public
opinion and politicians of the authenticity and legitimacy of Palestinian
aspiration for a state of their own.
On the Arab side, however, there is absent a broad cultural and professional
elite that would push hard for compromise, peace, and full recognition of
Israel. In recent years there has even been a process of hardening among the
intellectuals in the Arab countries to the point of categorical denial of
the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The overwhelming majority of Arab
intellectuals have not only not engaged in any parallel peace actions, but
they have even refused to internalize the fact that Zionism was and still is
the Jewish people's national liberation movement.
In Israel, the "Women in Black" demonstrate in front of the Ministry of
Defense in Tel Aviv, but there is not one single "Woman in Black"
demonstrating against suicides in front of the Islamic Jihad headquarters in
Damascus. Israeli Jewish poets protest against the occupation in their
poems; Arab poets write paean of praise to terror acts.
The Arab poets and their colleagues urge the Palestinians in Gaza to
maintain "a continuous intifada," an intifada that serves their frustrated
intellectuals as a kind of spiritual elevation in which they are not
required to sacrifice anything but words dripping with hate. Thus the Arab
"spiritual nobles" betray first and foremost their Palestinian brethren.
A summit in Jerusalem, a summit in Sharm e-Sheikh, a summit in Akaba - new
hope-stirring gambits. But as long as the idea of reconciliation with Israel
does not sink into Arab consciousness as a natural and desirable choice of
the Arabs themselves, but as something imposed on them by the United States
under the pressure of the Jewish lobby, imposed by globalization - the
prospects of peace are very slim.