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August 25, 2010

Alan Hart's Zionism

Reuel S. Amdur

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Alan Hart. Zionism, Vol. III. Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2010. A book review.

I had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Zionism, Vol. III, and I was not disappointed.

This volume, along with its two predecessors, is a landmark analysis of the Palestine-Israel situation.

It serves as the jumping-off point for any future histories of the diplomacy, which Hart covered as a journalist and in which he immersed himself actively as a participant.

He acted as a go-between trying to arrange negotiations between Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, efforts that came to naught when Menachem Begin, not Peres, won the 1977 Israeli election.

If his efforts had been more fruitful, the gloomy outlook for that part of the world might have been brighter.

One chapter in Vol. III tells the almost unbelievable story of the Israeli attack on the U.S. intelligence gathering ship USS Liberty during the 1967 war.

Briefly, Israel was planning to move forces from the Egyptian front to confront Syria.

The U.S. had okayed Israel’s operations on the Egyptian front but not against Syria. Israel’s defence minister Moshe Dayan did not want the Americans to know what was happening, so he ordered the attack on the Liberty, whose listening devices and intelligence capability could have alerted the U.S. government, which then might have interfered with Dayan’s plans.

The Liberty carried a large American flag, and Israeli planes carefully reconnoitered the vessel.

Then they attacked, killing and wounding many on board and targeting the lifeboats.

The attack was ongoing, by planes and torpedo boats, as it was apparently Dayan’s intention that there be no survivors to tell the tale.

Most of the communications equipment was destroyed by the attack, but one SOS did get out, as a result of which U.S. warplanes were sent to the scene.

Israel then backed off. The arrival of the U.S. planes made it impossible for Dayan to get away with killing everyone on board.

Israel explained that the attack was all a terrible mistake, and President Lyndon Johnson put a veil of secrecy on the whole sordid affair. Had the truth been made public, it would have had a major impact on subsequent events, but the hush-hush treatment preserved the status quo.

It is in connection with the Yom Kippur War that Hart comes to a strange conclusion.

He points out why Egypt attacked, while argues that Egypt did not start the war. His own evidence makes the argument tendentious. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s war aim was to regain part of the Sinai through a limited incursion in the area, land that had been lost to Israel. Regardless of his objective, war is war.

A pattern of Israeli irredentism runs through the volume, with Israeli right-wingers promoting the settler movement and expansion of the settlements.

The 2005 pull out from Gaza was strategic, to show the world and especially America that there was, supposedly, flexibility on Israel’s part.

What Hart does not state is that Israel found Gaza too costly in blood and resources to maintain. In fact, Hamas drove Israel out.

Rather than negotiate a pullout with the Palestine Authority, Israel chose to act unilaterally. This slap in the face to the Palestine Authority was a gift to Hamas, which went on to win the election.

Hart presents a sympathetic picture of Yasser Arafat, detailing his behaviour and his reasons behind it.

He does not address the issue of corruption within the Palestine Authority, which was a major factor in Fatah’s electoral defeat and a stumbling block to fuller support not only from Palestinians but other countries as well.

He explains Arafat’s efforts to rein in aggressive retaliation for Israeli attacks and his preparedness to accept even a mini-state, yet refers to the Palestine Authority on the West Bank as a quisling.

He does this without anything resembling the sympathetic treatment he gives to Arafat, though his opponents among the Palestinians might also have described him as a quisling.

Hart cites Arafat as finding Mahmoud Abbas to be weak, but little attention is paid in the volume to the strategy and tactics of Abbas and the Palestine Authority.

Abbas’ name does not even make it into the index. Regardless of what he may think of Abbas, Hart is quite aware of the daunting challenge he faces and the limited room he has to maneuver.

He also fails to look at the role of the non-Fatah president of the Authority, Salam Fayyad, who takes part in the anti-separation wall demonstrations at Bil’in. If I am not mistaken, Fayyad’s name does not even appear in the book.

Unfortunately, tossing off words like “quisling,” and “French whore” in previous volumes, indicates a failure to maintain the high level of reporting and analysis found elsewhere throughout the three volumes.

Nevertheless, in spite of such shortcomings Zionism is indispensable. It’s also a gripping read.

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