For Benny Morris the Israeli left isn't where it used to be.





On an overcast afternoon in early April, unsmiling men with big guns and earpieces patrol the sidewalk in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's private residence in the upscale Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia. A short walk up the road on Azza Street, Benny Morris sits outside a cafe, radiating despair. "Iran is building atomic weapons at least in part -- maybe in large part -- because it intends to use them. The people there are religious fanatics," he says in a rapid staccato. "Israel is under existential threat, and that is how Israel's military and political leaders must see the situation." In a 2007 essay, Morris, a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University, imagined a "second holocaust": nuclear-tipped Iranian missiles raining down on Haifa and Tel Aviv. "A million or more Israelis ... will die immediately," he predicted.

That is not the sort of language one expects from an icon of the left and an intellectual lodestar for supporters of the Palestinians. But Morris, 60, like much of the Israeli left, has grown ever more cynical about the prospects for a two-state solution and for peace. In his new book, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, Morris argues that the Palestinian national movement has never in fact reconciled itself to Israel's existence as a Jewish state. His shift from Oslo Accords optimist to embittered pessimist is emblematic of the disappointment and frustration that has ravaged the Israeli left since the second intifada. "Morris is a one-man microcosm of what many Israeli Jews of the Labor-Zionist strain have undergone in the past decade," says David B. Green, opinion editor at Ha'aretz's English edition. "They recognize that we're not on the verge of peace, that this conflict may not be resolvable, and that they were naive to think that was the case."

Educated at Cambridge University, Morris started his career in the late 1970s as a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, at that time a left-leaning newspaper. In 1987, he published his first book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, making an international name for himself. Morris's rigorous account of how the exodus of 60 percent of Palestine's Arabs during the 1948 war was the result both of self-induced flight and forced expulsion by Jewish military forces challenged official Israeli dogma, and ultimately helped shape the intellectual and cultural climate that birthed the Oslo peace process.

"Many Jews in Israel wanted to stick to the official version of events, but Morris forced them not to be so smug and self-righteous about the past," says Hebrew University historian Alexander Yakobson. Throughout the mid-1990s, Morris continued to express his hope that an honest reckoning with the history of the conflict might help reconcile Arabs and Israelis.

But Morris's optimism was first shattered in 2000 when Yasir Arafat rejected Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton's two-state proposals.

"Not only did they say no, but they launched a terroristic and guerrilla war against both the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Israel itself, suggesting that they are not just after the territories but want to drive the Jews out of Palestine," Morris says. His dismay was further exacerbated when Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 failed to staunch Palestinian violence. "The moment Israel pulled out from a chunk of Arab territory, as the Arabs have always been demanding, it turned into a base for rocket attacks," fumes Morris, who went to jail for three weeks in 1987 for refusing to serve as an army reservist in the occupied territories. Now he believes that Palestinian irredentism is probably never going away. ...


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Randll Reese Besch - 5/6/2009

Morris forgot to mention the part about the blockade that was put up before the rocket attacks. While the Palestinians starve in squalor the Israelis plan more death and destruction for them.

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