GEOFFREY ALDERMAN

Oz could not accept the Arabs don’t want peace

IT’S a matter of great regret to me that I never met Amos Oz, the celebrated Israeli author whose death on December 28 provoked worldwide outpourings of grief.

As a writer, Oz was one of a handful (the others include David Grossman, Abraham Yehoshua and the late Uri Avneri) who may be credited with re-inventing modern Hebrew as a serious literary medium post-1948.

Like Oz, Yehoshua was born in Mandate Palestine. Avneri was taken there by his parents in 1933.

All three served in the Israel Defence Forces (Oz fought in the wars of 1967 and 1973); Grossman, born in 1954, worked for Israeli military intelligence. Neither he, nor Avneri, nor Yehoshua nor Oz ever felt the need to apologise for the rebirth of the Jewish state.

But all were devotees of the left, associated with a variety of so-called “peace” movements.

Oz himself wrote eloquently of the right of Jews to exercise self-determination in Palestine. He supported the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier.

In 2006, he spoke — initially, at any rate — in support of the second Lebanon war as a necessary act of self-defence.

The fact remains that he was one of the founders of Peace Now and clung persistently to the hallucinatory vision of a two-state solution.

Had I met him I would certainly have taken the opportunity to quiz him about this delusion, the origins of which may be traced to his flawed understanding of Jewish history, of Arab history, and of Arab opposition to Israel’s rebirth.

Oz did indeed condemn the Israeli occupation of Gaza and Jewish resettlement of the West Bank. But he stubbornly held to the view that this occupation and this resettlement alone sufficed to explain the Israel-Palestine conflict.

And more than that, his inability — or (perhaps just as likely) unwillingness — to see this conflict in anything approaching religious terms blinded him to any recognition of the true seeds of the conflict, namely the Arab refusal to countenance Jewish self-rule in any part of the Dar-el-Islam (the House or Realm of Islam).

Oz did indeed offer eloquent descriptions of Israel’s rebirth, and of its early hardships.

If you haven’t read anything by him, I do recommend his final novel, Judas, published in 2014, in which he recalled the Jerusalem of 1959: “the lines for chickens and eggs, the shortage of electricity, the bureaucracy, the long list for telephone lines”.

But I also commend Dear Zealots, a collection of essays published in 2017, in which he insisted that “if there are not two states here very soon, there will be one. If there is one state, it will be an Arab one that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River”.

He went on: “Jews and Arabs can and should live together, but I would find it absolutely unacceptable to be part of a Jewish minority under Arab rule, because almost all the Arab regimes in the Middle East oppress and humiliate their minorities.

“And more importantly, because I insist on the right of Israeli Jews, like any other people, to be a majority, if only on a tiny strip of land.”

As you read this, please remember that within the Islamic mindset there is simply no room for a Jewish-majority state. None whatsoever.

Even if Israel withdrew from every square millimetre of land occupied as a result of the 1967 war, the Arabs would not be satisfied. They would demand “the right of return” — to Israel — of the millions of Palestinian so-called refugees, and with it the end of the Jewish state.

Oz rightly perceived how suicidal — for Israel and for its Jewish majority — this would be. But he refused to accept its grim logic, insisting instead that somewhere there was — there must be — a moderate Arab constituency with which a final peace settlement might be made.

Following Oz’s death, I read many obituary notices. Obits come in all shapes and sizes, and some of those penned in memory of Amos Oz were — inevitably — little more than superficial hagiographies.

The one that struck me as uncompromisingly honest was written by Haidar Eid, professor of postcolonial and postmodern literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University.

You can read it on the Mondoweiss website: a Palestinian academic’s rejection of everything Amos Oz stood for in terms of the “Peace Now” agenda.

The truth is that there is no moderate Palestinian-Arab constituency with which peace may be concluded. The tragedy of the great Amos Oz was that he clearly could not bring himself to accept this truth.

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