In early October 1990, about 2,000 Moslems gathered on the grounds of al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine located on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, to prevent an attempt by an extremist Jewish group, the Temple Mount Faithful, to conduct services on the very same spot which is also the site of an ancient Israelite temple. In the bloody clash that ensued between well-armed Israeli policemen and the Palestinian throng, 17 Arabs were killed and scores were injured. The chain of violence that had begun on the Temple Mount continued unabated in the following days and weeks, as several Israeli Jews were murdered by Muslim extremists who sought to avenge the deaths of their brethren. The Israeli authorities eventually responded by imposing curfews on Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, refusing Arabs entry to the Temple Mount, shutting down Bethlehem University for three months, and closing the entire Jerusalem area to Palestinian residents of the West Bank.
Meron Benvenisti, scion of a prominent Zionist family who served as deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1973 to 1978, uses the Temple Mount episode as a starting point for developing the central thesis of Intimate Enemies: namely, that the protracted dispute between Jews and Arabs in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is at its most basic core an intercommunal conflict, "an ongoing confrontation between two human collectives, struggling for natural and human resources, and competing for exclusive control over symbolic assets within a territorial unit that both consider their homeland."
Throughout the book, Benvenisti draws sharp conceptual distinctions between interstate and intercommunal conflicts. The former, he argues, entail disputes between sovereign entities that treat each other as juridical equals, and are frequently resolved through pragmatic diplomatic negotiations primarily because of the willingness of the parties to accept each other's status as separate and autonomous actors. lntercommunal conflicts, on the other hand, are primeval contests, classic tribal shepherds' wars between ethnic groups, fueled by mutual hatred. Such contests are organic, endemic, chronic, never-ending and violent precisely because they are perceived as struggles over collective survival and the right to national self-determination, fundamental issues of absolute justice on which there can be no compromise.
These theoretical distinctions enable Benvenisti to identify several phases through which the Jewish-Arab struggle over Palestine has evolved during the past century. The two initial outbreaks of large-scale violence between Jews and Arabs-the Great Revolt between 1936-39 and the civil war that erupted in the aftermath of the passage of the U.N. partition resolution in late 1947 and early 1948-were classic intercommunal confrontations, in which the two collectives fought under relatively equal conditions because both had been denied the prerogatives of political authority during the British Mandatory regime. During the two decades following the establishment of Israel in 1948, the conflict was transformed into a predominantly interstate confrontation between Israel and its neighboring Arab states-as evidenced in the conventional wars of 1948-49, 1956, and 1967-but the intercommunal struggle continued concurrently through infiltrations and terrorist acts by Palestinians. However, following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the outbreak of the intifada in 1987, the conflict reverted to its original intercommunal essence, but with one fundamental difference: since 1967, the confrontation is no longer one between equals but between a powerful ruling Israeli/Jewish collective and a subjugated and oppressed Palestinian population. This schema and its accompanying periodization, it should be noted, closely follow the framework developed by Mark Tessler in his recently published A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
A major motif running throughout Intimate Enemies is that if one distinguishes carefully between myth and reality, between substantive and symbolic victories, something that neither of the protagonists has been able to do, then the Palestinians repeatedly emerged as the losers from each of four potential turning points during the past decade: the intifada, the 1990-91 Gulf War, the negotiations following the 1991 Madrid conference and the Oslo accords of 1993.
Benvenisti argues that the intifada broke out in late 1987 as a spontaneous rebellion by Palestinians who felt, after twenty years of harsh Israeli rule, that their very existence as a national community was being seriously threatened. He notes that "the expropriation of half the land on the West Bank, the commandeering of water resources, the subordination of the economy to the needs of the Jewish collective, discrimination in commerce and labor, the settlements, obstacles to infrastructural development, the systematic deportation of Palestinian leaders, the closing of universities, the censorship-all these aroused deep apprehension about the chances of surviving as a Palestinian collective under Israeli rule." The Israelis, however, failed to anticipate the uprising because of their psychological inability to acknowledge the existence of another legitimate collective entity between the Jordan and the sea.
The most significant accomplishment of the intifada, according to Benvenisti, was that it transformed the Palestinians from an object manipulated by external forces into an "independent subject." The uprising also enabled the Palestinians to mobilize the will of their community, helped to create various pre-state institutions rooted in voluntary associations, and persuaded Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership to adopt a more realistic political platform that included the endorsement of partition in the Algiers Declaration in late 1988. In retrospect, however, the intifada generated harsh Israeli responses that resulted in hundreds of dead, thousands of wounded, several thousands of prisoners and a drastic drop in the standard of living in the territories. Instead of creating lasting political gains, the uprising resolved nothing.
The Palestinians fared no better after they bet on the wrong horse and cast their lot with Saddam Hussein, aptly characterized by Benvenisti as the deus ex machina, the false savior who misled Arafat and his minions to believe that the road to liberating Jerusalem ran through Kuwait. By embracing Saddam, Arafat not only placed the Palestinian nationalist movement in the incongruous position of supporting the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait while denouncing the Israeli occupation of the territories, he also reinforced the Likud government's view that Arab threats to the security of Israel from any quarter precluded any territorial compromise. In retaliation for the Palestinians' support of Iraq, Israel imposed a curfew on the territories that coincided with the onset of Desert Storm and lasted 45 days. Benvenisti views this form of collective punishment as a draconian measure because it created unbearable human suffering, and notes that "even security considerations in wartime did not justify the steps taken."
After the Gulf War debacle, the Palestinians pinned their hopes on what became known as the Madrid peace process. Benvenisti claims that the Madrid conference "had been nothing but a show, put on for internal American political purposes. Its participants had been dragged to it against their wills, or after they had made sure in advance that it would not lead anywhere." Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was unwilling to exchange territories for peace, adroitly exploited the peace process to prolong the negotiations so as to gain time for accelerating the construction of settlements in the West Bank. While using more flexible rhetoric, Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin refused to link a very constricted notion of territorial autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza during the interim phase to a final agreement on the status of the areas and implemented unusually harsh enforcement measures, which raised the level of violence.
The piece de resistance of Intimate Enemies appears in the very last chapter in the form of an original, insightful and trenchant critique of developments unleashed by the 1993 Oslo accords. Benvenisti views the Rabin-Arafat handshake as a "supremely symbolic act, transforming the Israeli-Palestinian feud from a primordial shepherds' war into a rational, solvable conflict." For the first time in the history of this century old struggle, the protagonists were willing to acknowledge each other as "legitimate enemies." What made all of this possible were pragmatic considerations on both sides. Rabin was willing to recognize the PLO and sign the Declaration of Principles (DOP), not because he was ideologically committed to a just peace, but because the Israeli public "wished to get rid of the Arabs and felt that the burden of controlling a hostile and murderous population interfered with their main concern: pursuing the ideals of the consumer society." Arafat, on the other hand, realized that he had no choice other than to give up on the dream of liberating all of Palestine and to accept what are essentially terms of surrender dictated by the militarily superior Israelis.
Both the DOP and the May 1994 agreement that established a Palestinian authority in Gaza and Jericho provide ample evidence to support Benvenisti's contention that the peace produced by the Oslo process is tantamount to an Israeli Diktat. For example, neither agreement required complete Israeli withdrawal, and the Palestinian authority was granted only partial powers. As matters stand, Israeli military forces can freely use the roads within Gaza and Jericho and exercise exclusive control of access roads to Israeli settlements that crisscross the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, even after the eventual withdrawal, the Military Government keeps its power "in accordance with international law." In addition, the Palestinian authority cannot exercise jurisdiction over Israeli settlers, agencies or corporations. The accords also enshrine the asymmetry in economic power between the parties by stipulating that the Palestinians will have to bear all of Israel's financial responsibilities that were incurred prior to the transfer of authority, and this despite the fact that the Israeli Treasury has withheld over the past two decades large sums from the earnings of Palestinian workers for social security benefits. In short, when all is said and done, the bottom line for Benvenisti is that "the occupation continues, albeit by remote control, and with the consent of the Palestinian people, represented by their 'sole representative,' the PLO."
The "separate but unequal" disengagement agreements are also unacceptable to Benvenisti because they fail to take into account the physical interdependence between Israel proper and the territories. The physical unity of the entire area west of the Jordan manifests itself in the mutual dependence of Israelis and Arabs in the spheres of trade, employment, security, waste disposal, water and land management, physical planning, ecology, transportation, law and administration.
It is for this reason and because of his own personal affinity for the ancestral homeland that Benvenisti favors the creation of an Israel/Palestine binational state. The idea of combining ethnic and cultural separation within a common geopolitical framework in historic Palestine has a long genealogy, a fact that Benvenisti unfortunately fails to acknowledge. For example, the solution envisioned by the British White Paper of 1939 was a binational state "in which the two peoples of Palestine, Arabs and Jews, share authority in government in such a way that the essential interests of each are secured." The same idea was also advocated in the 1920s and 1930s by Brit Shalom (The Covenant of Peace) and in the 1940s by Ihud (Union), a group that was led by Judah Magnes, president of the Hebrew University, and Henrietta Szold, the founder of the Zionist Women's Organization of America. The binational solution, however, was never popular with the vast majority of the rank and file within the Zionist camp, nor was it ever acceptable to the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement. To his credit, Benvenisti recognizes that Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation within a binational framework still remains a dream, but one that is worth articulating as an ideal alternative to the present march of events.
While he cannot be faulted for his dreams, the author must be held accountable for a few glaring contradictions in his argumentation. For example, the claim that after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 "there was a huge improvement in Arab citizens' quality of life," is contradicted by the acknowledgment that "the Israeli governmental system in Jerusalem does not apportion public resources in an equal or rational way" (p.35), and by the author's explanation that attributes the minuscule Arab turnout in the 1994 municipal elections to their dissatisfaction with a city government "that did almost nothing for them" (p. 44). Likewise, it is difficult to reconcile the assertion that there had been a "notable rise in the standard of living for the Palestinians in the territories" during 20 years of Israeli rule (p. 74) with the conclusion that well into the 1980s, the "average per capita urban supply of water was half that in Jordan, and electricity consumption per capita was two-thirds of that in Egypt" (p. 219). The latter incongruity is especially puzzling in view of Benvenisti's own acknowledged awareness that "researchers and political opponents have long exposed Israel's policies and their consequences, given the lie to the myth of a 'benign occupation,' and refuted the legend of the economic and social progress made during a generation of Israel rule" (p.219).
Despite these shortcomings, Intimate Enemies provides unusually insightful and persuasive explanations for the persistence of the Jewish/Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resistance to simple solutions. While the book will be more easily accessible to those who are more familiar with the long history of the feud, it will appeal in particular to those who share Benvenisti's ardent passion for the ancient land and his humanistic compassion for all its inhabitants, Arabs and Jews alike.