Israel’s leading new historian appears to change his mind

December 11, 2001

* Professor Benny Morris: “We will not reach a compromise in this generation, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we will never reach a true and permanent agreement. In the heart of every Palestinian exists a desire that the State of Israel will not be here anymore. For many of them this translates into more than just a desire. As far as they are concerned, all of their misfortunes are a consequence of our deeds, and our destruction will bring about their salvation. Their salvation is the whole of Palestine.”


“THEY EXPECTED TO HEAR A LECTURE BY AN ANTI-ISRAEL ACADEMIC”

In the attached interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Professor Benny Morris, the leading Israeli “New Historian” and longtime hero of the Palestinian Ministry of Information and of anti-Israel western intellectuals, appears to change his mind on several key issues.

He says “the Palestinians have consistently rejected any notion of compromise,” are “largely to blame for what has transpired [over] the past seventy years,” and accuses the Palestinian negotiators at Taba of “lying” to Yossi Beilin.

-- Tom Gross



INTERVIEW WITH BENNY MORRIS

Excerpts from an interview with Benny Morris
By Miron Rappaport
Yediot Ahronot
November 23, 2001

The audience at the Berkeley Theological Institute has arrived with clear expectations. They had been promised a lecture on the peace process, to be presented by none other than Professor Benny Morris, an Israeli historian, considered by many in Israel to be the enfant terrible of his discipline. He is a leftist, noted for his controversial opinions and particularly for his unorthodox views on Zionist history. Indeed, his views are considered so heretical and iconoclastic, that even the liberal-minded Israeli universities have had difficulties offering him a position.

In the United States, Berkeley is still perceived as a stronghold of the radical left, and all those who filled the hall at Berkeley Theological Institute were certain that the guest speaker would say exactly what they wanted to hear; namely that Israel is to blame for everything, that Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians the aggrieved party. "They expected to hear a lecture by an anti-Israeli academic," remarks Professor Morris, as he sips a cup of coffee in Jerusalem and struggles to conceal his delight.

Morris had other plans. He knew that he was about to catch is audience unawares. In the course of the presentation, he informed his audience that the Palestinians have consistently rejected any notion of compromise. They opposed the Peel Commission Partition Plan on 1937 proposing both a Jewish state and an Arab state in the territory of Mandatory Palestine, and they rejected the UN Partition Plan of 1947 which called for the partition of British-ruled Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. They would not hear of the Sadat-Begin Autonomy Plan (an element of the Camp David Agreement that has never been implemented), and rejected Bill Clinton's generous proposal involving 95 percent of West Bank Territory. In short, the Jews have always accepted what has been on offer, while the Arabs have always been the rejectionists. The Palestinians are largely to blame for what has transpired; they have been making the same historical mistakes for the past seventy years, and there is a price to be paid for such folly.

These are the words of a man who struggled to find work in Israeli academic institutions because of his radical left wing views. Morris denies that his views have changed. He claims that he has always held these beliefs, although apparently no one else is aware of this fact. Even if he has expressed these views in interviews, they have never been quoted, "it does not sound politically correct" remarks Morris. Nevertheless, Morris acknowledges that his indignation with the Palestinians has accumulated over the last 2 years. The rejection of Clinton's proposal appears to have been the cause of this exasperation. Morris maintains that although former Prime Minister Barak made some mistakes, these were ultimately negligible errors. In the final analysis, Barak accepted Clinton's generous proposal, which required relinquishing 95 percent of West Bank territory and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, as well as the division of Jerusalem.

Morris also expresses reservations regarding Barak's readiness to compromise over Temple Mount. "if there is a people that should receive the mount, it I us [the Jewish people]. However an injustice was done, and two mosques were established on the ruins of the Jewish Temple, 1400 years ago and [now] the Arabs also have a share of the Temple Mount. I can accept compromise involving [joint] Jewish and Arab control over Temple Mount, but why should the Palestinians have exclusive control? Where is the justice in this?

In any event, this issue is ultimately eclipsed by Arafat's mistake of rejecting Clinton's proposal. "these mistakes have exacted a cost in human lives on both our side and their side." Says Morris. Morris has been vocal in bringing the issue of "right of return" to the awareness of the general public. He is uncompromising on this issue, viewing every reference to the "right of return" as a disaster, and a recipe for the destruction of the State of Israel. He believes that even if Arafat were to settle for an Israeli acknowledgement of responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem, and even if he were to agree to renounce such a right, in practice, Israel should still reject a proposal of this kind: "if you acknowledge responsibility, millions will immediately come forward and demand their proportion of land. The acceptance of a right of return will lead to attempts to exploit this right and, eventually, there will be no State of Israel. There will be no Jewish state to speak of".

Q: In Taba ( the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Taba January 21-27 2001) there were reports that Israel would acknowledge its responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem, but would have to absorb a negligible number of these refugees and also have final say on this actual number. Do you reject this as well?

BM: The Palestinians told [former] Israeli cabinet Minster Yossi Beilin that they were ready to accept any kind of formula on the refugee issue, but they lied to him. They will never compromise on the right of return. They will never be able to face their people in the refugee camps and tell them: we have relinquished your right to return. They are not able to countenance this.

Q: Sari Nusseibeh head of the PA office of Jerusalem Affairs said it himself.

BM: "He is an exception. His statements are putting his life in danger. He is not one of the first rank senior leadership. I never heard Mohammad Dakhlan, Jibril Rajoub, or Abu Allah and their guys saying this. Even if they will sign on such a text at one stage or another, a new generation will emerge in ten or twenty years and will argue that they had no right to give up [the right of return]."

Q: "You are the man who revealed to the Israelis that they have responsibility for the refugee problem. Are you asking them to ignore what you revealed to them?"

BM: "I revealed to the Israelis the truth of what happened in 1948, the historic facts. But the Arabs are the ones who started the fighting, they started the shootings. So why should I take responsibility? The Arabs started the war, they are responsible."

Q: "Should we ignore this issue in a permanent agreement?"

BM: "We need to give some kind of a solution to the Palestinians but we must not recognize the right of return. Arafat and his generation cannot give up on the vision of the greater land of Israel for the Arabs. [This is true, because] this is a holy land, Dar-al Islam. It was once in the hands of the Muslims, and its inconceivable [to them] that infidels like us would receive it. And besides, even if Arafat will sign an agreement, I find it hard to believe, in view of his behaviour during the last two years, that he or his heirs will abide by it."

Q: "Is that because they are Arabs?"

BM: "Not because they are Arabs, but rather because they don't understand that justice exists on the other side as well. We do understand that justice exists on the other side. Have you ever heard a senior Palestinian official who says that the Jewish demand for the State of Israel is justified? I have never heard that being said..."

"We will not reach a compromise in this generation, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we will never reach a true and permanent agreement. In the heart of every Palestinian exists a desire that the State of Israel will not be here anymore. For many of them this translates into more than just a desire. As far as they are concerned, all of their misfortunes are a consequence of our deeds, and our destruction will bring about their salvation. Their salvation is the whole of Palestine."

Q: "Do they not understand the reality? Do they not understand that they absorb all these blows as a consequence of their unwillingness to compromise?"

BM: "Every nation has its own particular way to understand reality, and their reality is very fluid. They feel that demographics will defeat the Jews in one hundred or two hundred yeas, just like the Crusaders. Or [the Palestinians are hoping that] the Arabs will have nuclear weapons. Why should they accept a compromise that is perceived by them as unjust today?"

Q: "And when you hear Palestinian leaders, like Abu Mazen and others, who say that they are willing to accept Israel, and living alongside it, do you not believe them?"

BM: "Not really. I do believe them when they cheer for bin Laden..."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.