Benny Morris

Morris responds to the Mearsheimer and Walt Working Paper


John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S.
Foreign Policy” is a nasty piece of work. Some of what they assert
regarding the terrorist tactics of certain Zionist groups during the
1930s, and the atrocities committed by Israeli troops in the War of
1948, and the harsh Israeli measures against the Palestinians during
the second intifada, and certain activities of the pro-Israel lobby in the
United States over the past decades–some of this is correct, and I
realize as I write this sentence that it will henceforth be trotted out
by the Mearsheimers and Walts of the world, as by their Arab admirers,
while they omit the previous sentence and all that now follows. But what
these distinguished professors have produced is otherwise depressing to
anyone who values intellectual integrity.

Mearsheimer and Walt build their case mainly by means of omission:
they tell certain facts while omitting others, sometimes more apt and
crucial. And occasionally they distort facts and figures. The thesis of
their study, which was supported by the John F. Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University, is that America’s support of Israel
runs contrary to American national interests, and that it is not
grounded in “a compelling moral case.” To establish the latter
contention, they deny that Israel is the weaker party in the
Arab-Israeli conflict; and that it is a democracy; and that “Israel’s
conduct has been morally superior to [that of] its adversaries.”

In order to highlight the authors’ methodology and to give an accurate
picture of their scholarship, I wish to focus on several historical
points that they make to sustain their case. (I will leave it to others
to show what should be perfectly obvious: that the pro-Israel lobby is
not the conspiratorial tail that wags the American dog.) I must confess
to a personal interest in the matter. Like many pro-Arab propagandists
at work today, Mearsheimer and Walt often cite my own books, sometimes
quoting directly from them, in apparent corroboration of their arguments.
Yet their work is a travesty of the history that I have
studied and written for the past two decades. Their work is riddled with
shoddiness and defiled by mendacity. Were “The Israel Lobby and U.S.
Foreign Policy” an actual person, I would have to say that he did not
have a single honest bone in his body.


I will begin with the question of the balance of forces between Israel and
the Arab world–a political-military issue with moral overtones, because it begs
the question of who in this conflict was, and remains, the
underdog deserving of Western sympathy. Mearsheimer and Walt write that
“Israel is often portrayed as weak and besieged, a Jewish David
surrounded by a hostile Arab Goliath … but the opposite image is
closer to the truth.” For some reason, weakness is commonly seen as
entailing moral superiority, an illogical proposition.

I would recommend that they take a look at any atlas and yearbook for
the key years of the conflict–1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. Even a child
would notice that the Arab world, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to
the Persian Gulf, does actually “surround” Israel and is infinitely
larger than the eight-thousand-square-mile Jewish state (which is the
size of New Hampshire). He would notice also that the population of the
confrontation states–Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, who were often
joined in their wars with Israel by expeditionary forces from Morocco,
Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Yemen–has always been at least twenty times
greater than Israel’s; and in 1948 it was about fifty times greater. The
material resources of the Arab world similarly have been (as they still
are) infinitely larger than Israel’s.

It is true that Israel’s “organizational ability” has enabled it to
concentrate and focus its resources where they count in wartime, on the
successive battlefields, with far greater efficiency than the Arabs; and
it is true that Israel’s troops, and especially its officer corps, have
always been of a far higher caliber than the Arabs’ counterparts; and it
is true that the motivation of Israel’s troops–often with their backs
to the wall–has generally been superior to that of their Arab foes. But
this is still a far cry from implying, as Mearsheimer and Walt do,
regarding the war in 1947-1949, that Israel won its wars because “the
Zionists had larger, better-equipped” forces than the Arabs.

During the October (or Yom Kippur) War in 1973, the Egyptians mustered
about one million men under arms, and their Syrian allies some 400,000,
when they launched their surprise attacks across the Suez Canal and on
the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fielded 350,000 to
400,000 troops at most. The Israelis won that war because of superior
“grit” and better quality of troops and organization, even though the
wings of their better air force and tank corps were badly clipped by the
Arabs’ massive deployment of state-of-the-art missile shields.

As regards the war of 1948, the picture is more complex–but it is
certainly not the picture painted by Mearsheimer and Walt of flat
Israeli superiority. (I don’t know about political science, but
history–I mean good history–needs to account for complexity and
nuance.) It is true that in the first part of the war, the “civil war”
between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine (from late November
1947 until May 14, 1948, when the state of Israel came into being), the
Jews enjoyed a gradually mobilized military superiority, owed primarily
to better organization and only marginally to an advantage in some types
of weaponry (mortars and possibly machine guns). But the Palestinians
probably had an edge in light arms, the main armaments during the civil
war. And they enjoyed the support of the 4,000-man Arab Liberation Army,
consisting mainly of Syrian and Iraqi volunteers, which had field
artillery, which the Yishuv–the Jewish community in Palestine–did not
possess. Except in the last few weeks of the civil war, the Arabs
probably had an overall edge in men-under-arms–say 15,000-30,000 to the
Yishuv’s 15,000-25,000; but they proved unable to bring the advantage to
bear in the successive battlefields. The militiamen of Nablus and
Hebron, where no fighting occurred, saw no reason to come to the aid of
their embattled brothers in Jaffa and Haifa.

During the second and conventional phase of the war (mid-May 1948 to
January 1949), which was fought between the invading armies of the Arab
states–Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan (supplemented by Sudanese, Saudi,
Yemeni, and Moroccan contingents)–and the newborn state of Israel, the
Arab side began with an overwhelming, or what should have been an
overwhelming, advantage in equipment and firepower. In the first
fortnight of the invasion, the Arabs had more than seventy combat
aircraft, Spitfires and Furies, and the Yishuv had none. (The Israelis
assembled and sent into action their first four combat aircraft,
Czech-built Messerschmidt 109s, on May 29, and lost two of them.) During
the following months, the Arabs continued to enjoy an overwhelming
advantage in combat aircraft. Until the end of June, certainly, the Arab
invaders possessed a massive superiority in all other types of heavy
weaponry: they deployed about two hundred standard armored fighting
vehicles (Humbers, Daimlers, and Marmon Harringtons), many of them
mounting two- and six-pounder cannon; dozens of tanks (Cruiser, Locust,
Mark 6, and Renault); and dozens of artillery pieces. The Israelis had
two tanks, one of them without a gun; and one, then two, batteries of
light pre-World War I-vintage 65mm Mountain artillery; and makeshift
armored cars, civilian trucks patched up with steel plates in Tel Aviv

During the following months, until the war’s practical end in January
1949 (the war formally ended in a series of armistice agreements signed
between February and July), the Arab edge in heavy weaponry gradually
decreased, partly as a result of attrition and the failure to acquire
spare parts and ammunition, and partly because of Israel’s successful
arms purchases in Czechoslovakia and the West. But at the end of
hostilities the Arabs still had more fighter aircraft and tanks, and
perhaps even artillery, than the Israelis–though they lacked the
expertise to use them and, over time, progressively lacked the necessary
spare parts and munitions to deploy them effectively. The Israelis
managed to circumvent the international arms embargo that had been
imposed on the Middle East; the Arabs tried to do so, but largely failed.

As for manpower, the picture of relative force remains somewhat murky.
The reason for the incompleteness of our knowledge is simple. Israel’s
archives are open, and the figures for the Israeli side are clear and
available; but the archives of all the Arab states, which are
dictatorships, remain closed. Thus the figures about Arab military
manpower at given stages of the war remain partial and tentative, based
perforce mainly on IDF intelligence estimates. But according to the
latest research, particularly the work of Amitzur Ilan and Yehoshua
Ben-Aryeh and Asaf Agin, the invading Arab troops (in the third week of
May 1948) numbered 22,000 to 28,000, bolstered by several thousand
irregulars, while the Haganah, the mainstream Zionist militia, which
became the IDF on June 1, 1948, fielded some 27,000 to 30,000 troops,
with another 6,000 elderly Home Guardsmen, and some 2,000 to 3,000 IZL
members. (The IZL was the Irgun Zva’i Leumi, or National Military
Organization, a terrorist-militia group of the Zionist right.) But the
invading Arab forces were all combat troops, teeth formations, who were
backed, in terms of logistics, training, and so on, by at least a
similar number of rear-echelon base camp troops; whereas the Haganah
figure includes both combat troops (all told, about 16,000 to 17,000)
and rear echelon units.

In mid-October, the balance stood at 79,000-95,000 to 47,000-53,000 in
favor of the Israelis, who vastly expanded their recruitment. But again,
the figure for the Arabs represents the numbers engaged in Palestine,
not the full roll call of the relevant Arab armies, with their rear
echelons. (All these figures relate to ground forces; the air and naval
forces of the two sides, which were negligible in terms of manpower and
importance, are omitted.) It is perhaps worth adding that in 1948 Israel
suffered just over 6,000 dead, one-third of them civilians, out of a
total population of 650,000 to 700,000–or one killed and two seriously
wounded out of every hundred in the population–in the course of a
year-long war that was launched, in two stages, by the Palestinian Arabs
(in November-December 1947) and by the Arab states (in May 1948) after
they had rejected the United Nations Partition Resolution of November
29, 1947. (Had America suffered a similar proportion of casualties in
the Vietnam War, there would have been more than two million dead and
four million wounded.) Arab losses in 1948 are uncertain. It is usually
estimated that about 8,000 Palestinians died, and that the Arab armies’
fatalities were about half that number.

So yes, Israel won each of its wars against the Arab states. But no,
this was not because it had greater manpower or more equipment; it
usually had less of each. The wars were decided by the failure of the
significantly stronger and more populous Arab world to mobilize its
resources or concentrate its forces where they counted, or to provide
them with adequate leadership.


This brings us to Israel’s recent conflict with the Palestinians, on a
lower level of intensity but still ongoing, and to its treatment by
Mearsheimer and Walt. Without a doubt, the ratio of Israeli power to
Palestinian power in 2000-2005, the years of the second intifada, was at
least 100:1 in Israel’s favor, in terms of raw conventional military
strength. (This, without taking into account Israel’s non-conventional
military capabilities.) This intifada, this war, was launched by the
Palestinians, who enjoyed the propaganda benefit of underdog status. The
photograph of the disheveled stone-throwing or Kalashnikov-brandishing
fighter facing down the Merkava Mark-III main battle tank became a
representative image of this conflict. But it was a misleading
representation. For the fearsome Merkava tanks almost never used their
firepower against the Palestinians, much as the IAF F-16s and Apache
attack helicopters usually (but not always) attacked empty Palestinian
public buildings or individual terrorists in cars. The Hamas and Fatah
fighters operated from behind a shield of Palestinian civilians and from
crowded urban refugee camps and neighborhoods, and so Israel fought with
both hands tied behind its back. Its actual firepower–its tanks,
aircraft, and cannon–was never unleashed.

This accounts for the relatively low number of Arab deaths (four
thousand in five years of warfare), and the relatively low proportion of
Arab to Jewish deaths (3.5:1), as compared with the actual calculus of
Israeli versus Arab military strength (100:1) and the relative
proportion of armed to unarmed Arab casualties (about 2:1). Most of the
Arabs killed in the intifada, despite the fact that it was mostly fought
in heavily populated Arab areas, were armed fighters, not civilians. And
the ratio of armed to unarmed Arab casualties has steadily risen in
recent years as the IDF has perfected its modus operandi and become more
careful. The famous battle of the Jenin refugee camp in spring 2002 is
an illuminating example. Arab lies and gullible journalism about an
indiscriminate slaughter notwithstanding (Human Rights Watch and other
non-partisan bodies subsequently upheld the Israeli version), only
fifty-three Jeninites died, all but five or six of them armed
combatants. Israel lost twenty-three infantrymen in the battle. Had
Israel dealt with that Fatah-Hamas bastion as, say, the Russians dealt
with Grozny–from afar, with massive ground and aerial bombardments–no
Israeli lives would have been lost, and Jenin would no longer be standing.

Throughout the second intifada, Israeli policy was to avoid, so far as
possible, harm to non-combatants, and the IDF generally took great
operational care to avoid civilian casualties. Some “collateral damage”
did occur, given the nature of the battlefield. Some Israeli soldiers
were trigger-happy and exceeded orders. But generally the targeted
killing of terrorists–who see themselves, quite correctly, as soldiers
in a war, and hence are legitimate targets for attack–resulted in few
civilian casualties. (The Israeli air and artillery attacks in Gaza
earlier this month offer a characteristic example: of eighteen Arabs
killed, fifteen or sixteen, by Palestinian admission, were combatants.)

On the other hand, during the second intifada Arab attacks on Israelis
claimed twice as many civilians’ lives as soldiers’ lives. (Mearsheimer
and Walt bury this fact in a footnote, without explanation.) This was a
result of deliberation and intention, not accident. Throughout the
intifada, Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad primarily targeted “soft”
civilian targets (buses, restaurants, shopping malls, and last week a
Tel Aviv falafel kiosk), preferring them to “hard” military targets,
which were more difficult and more dangerous. The Palestinian objective
was to sow terror in Israel’s rear areas. The difference in strategy,
and all that this implies in terms of moral orientation, was stark. The
Palestinian aim was to kill as many civilians as possible; and the
Palestinian masses rejoiced in the streets of Gaza and Ramallah every
time a suicide bomber successfully blew up a bus or a shopping mall or a
café in Israel. And this, historically speaking, was merely a refinement
of the Palestinian tactics of terror used against the Yishuv since the
1920s (and not, as Arab propagandists would have it, only after 1967).

The IDF’s aim, by contrast, was to kill guerrillas/terrorists and their
commanders, such as Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Mearsheimer and Walt
misleadingly call him the “spiritual” head of Hamas. One might, with
equal accuracy, call Hitler the “spiritual” head of the Nazi Party.
Neither actually murdered anyone with his bare hands. But their
differences notwithstanding, both were the organizational and
operational directors of their respective movements, as well as the
movements’ “spiritual” leaders.


In their survey of the conflict’s history, Mearsheimer and Walt write
that “the mainstream Zionist leadership was not interested in
establishing a bi-national state or accepting a permanent partition of
Palestine … To achieve this goal [of turning all of Palestine into a
sovereign Jewish state], the Zionists had to expel large numbers of
Arabs from the territory that would eventually become Israel. There was
simply no other way to accomplish their objective. … This opportunity
came in 1947-1948, when Jewish forces drove up to 700,000 Palestinians
into exile. … The fact that the creation of Israel entailed a moral
crime against the Palestinian people was well understood by Israel’s
leaders.” Let us examine these assertions one by one.

Mearsheimer and Walt are implicitly arguing that the Zionist movement
never really wanted or accepted a compromise–at the very least, that
the Jewish national movement was no different from the Palestinian
national movement, which always demanded a one-state solution and
rejected a compromise based on partition. Now, it is true that Zionism
sought the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, not a
bi-national state in which Jews would enjoy minority status in yet
another Muslim-Arab land or in which there would be temporary
Jewish-Muslim parity–which, as everybody understood, given the high
Arab birth rate, would quickly be transformed into a state with an Arab
majority and a Jewish minority. But the acceptance or non-acceptance of
partition is another matter. Mearsheimer and Walt imply that down to
(and maybe even beyond) 1948, the Zionist leadership rejected the
partition of Palestine. This is simply false, no matter what misleading
quotations they cull from eminent Israeli historians.

Until 1936-1937, certainly, the Zionist mainstream sought to establish a
Jewish state over all of Palestine. But something began to change
fundamentally during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, which was conducted
against the background of resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe and the
threat of genocide. In July 1937, the British royal commission headed by
Lord Peel recommended the partition of Palestine, with the Jews to
establish their own state on some 20 percent of the land and the bulk of
the remainder to fall under Arab sovereignty (ultimately to be conjoined
to the Emirate of Transjordan, ruled by the Emir Abdullah). The
commission also recommended the transfer–by agreement or “voluntarily,”
and if necessary by force–of all or most of the Arabs from the area
destined for Jewish statehood. The Zionist right, the Revisionist
movement, rejected the proposals. But mainstream Zionism, representing
80 to 90 percent of the movement, was thrown into ferocious debate; and,
shepherded by David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist
leadership ended up formally accepting the principle of partition, if
not the actual award of 20 percent of the land. The movement resolved
that the Peel proposals were a basis for further negotiation.

It is true that Ben-Gurion harbored a hope, in 1937, that such a
partition would be but a “first step,” to be followed by eventual
Zionist expansion throughout Palestine. But the years that followed
sobered Zionism and changed the movement’s thinking. The movement’s
formal acceptance of the principle of partition was gradually digested
and incorporated into the mentality of the Zionist mainstream, which
understood that the Jewish people needed an immediate safe haven from
European savagery, and that the movement would have to take what history
was offering and could gain no more. The Jewish nationalist leaders
called this “pragmatism.”

By November 1947, the Zionists’ reconciliation to a partial realization
of their dreams was complete (except on the fringes of the movement),
and Zionism’s mainstream, led by Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, once and for
all internalized the necessity of partition and accepted the U.N.
partition resolution. The 1948 war was fought by Israel with a
partitionist outlook, and it ended in partition (with the West Bank and
East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule and the Gaza Strip controlled by
Egypt), despite Israel’s military superiority at its conclusion. During
the following two decades, down to June 1967, there was a general
acceptance by the Israeli mainstream of the fact, and the permanence, of

As is well known, the Israeli victory and conquests of 1967 re-awakened
the controversy about partition and for a time empowered the “Greater
Israel” anti-partitionists, until their decline and fall, which began
with Yitzhak Rabin’s election to the premiership in 1992. Partition–or
a two-state solution–remained the goal of all Rabin’s successors:
Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, and most notably Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert
(though not Benjamin Netanyahu), and also of the bulk of the Israeli
public. But Mearsheimer and Walt do not venture into this significant

The Palestinian story was different. The Palestinian national movement,
from its inception up to 2000, from Haj Amin al Husseini to Yasser
Arafat, backed by the Arab world, rejected a two-state solution. There
was no great debate. The Palestinian leadership rejected the 1937 and
1947 partition plans (and the Begin-Sadat “autonomy plan” of 1978, which
would have led to a two-state solution), and insisted that the Jews had
no right to even an inch of Palestine. And the Palestinian government of
today, led by the popularly elected Hamas, continues to espouse this
uncompromising, anti-partitionist one-state position. All of this is
completely ignored in Mearsheimer and Walt’s “history.”


And now to the issue of transfer and expulsion. It is true, as
Mearsheimer and Walt observe, quoting me, that “the idea of transfer is
as old as modern Zionism and has accompanied its evolution and praxis
during the past century.” But once again the matter is complicated, and
the problem of who said and did what, and where, and when, and why, is
all-important. This complexity has proved too great for Mearsheimer and
Walt to handle.

Zionist leaders, from Herzl through Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, between
1881 and the mid-1940s, occasionally expressed support for the
“transfer” of Arabs, or of “the Arabs,” out of the territory of the
future Jewish state. But three salient facts must be recalled. First,
the Zionist leadership throughout never adopted the idea as part of the
movement’s political platform; nor did it ever figure in the platforms
of any of the major Zionist parties. Second, the Zionist leaders
generally said, and believed, that a Jewish majority would be achieved
in Palestine, or in whatever part of it became a Jewish state, by means
of massive Jewish immigration, and that this immigration would also
materially benefit the Arab population (which it generally did during
the Mandate). Third, the awful idea of transfer was resurrected and
pressed by Zionist leaders at particular historical junctures, at
moments of acute crisis, in response to Arab waves of violence that
seemed to vitiate the possibility of Arab-Jewish co-existence in a
single state, and in response to waves of European anti-Semitic violence
that, from the Zionist viewpoint, necessitated the achievement of a safe
haven for Europe’s oppressed and threatened Jews. Such a haven required
space in which to settle the Jewish masses and an environment free of
murderous Arabs: this, indeed, was the logic behind the Peel
Commission’s transfer recommendation.

Moreover, during the 1930s and 1940s, the espoused policy of the leader
of the Palestinian Arab national movement, the Muslim cleric Haj Amin al
Husseini, was frankly expulsionist about the Yishuv. He repeatedly
stated that he was willing, in his future Palestinian state, to
accommodate as citizens only those Jews who had been residents or
citizens of Palestine up to 1917–say, 60,000 to 80,000 in all. When
asked in 1937 by the Peel Commission what he intended to do with the 80
percent of the Jews who had been born in or come to Palestine after that
date, he responded that time will tell. The commissioners understood him
to mean that they were destined for expulsion or worse.

In other words, the surge in thinking about transfer in the late 1930s
among mainstream Zionist leaders was in part a response to the
expulsionist mentality of the Palestinians, which was reinforced by
ongoing Arab violence and terrorism. The violence resulted in Britain’s
severely curtailing immigration to Palestine, thus assuring that many
Jews who otherwise might have been saved were left stranded in Europe
(and consigned to death), while at the same time foreclosing the
traditional Zionist option and aim of achieving a Jewish majority in
Palestine through immigration. Mearsheimer and Walt rightly take to task
the anti-Arab terrorism of the Irgun in those years; but they omit to
mention that the Irgun unleashed its bloody operations in response to
Arab terrorism, and that in any case it represented only the fringe
right wing of the Zionist movement, of which the mainstream–unlike the
Palestinian Arab national movement–consistently rejected and condemned

During the early 1940s, against the backdrop of the Holocaust and
official British deliberations about a postwar solution to the Palestine
problem based on partition, all understood (as had the Peel Commission)
that any partition not accompanied by a transfer of Arabs out of the
territory of the Jewish-state-to-be would be unstable or pointless, as
the large Arab minority, if left in place, would be disloyal and
rebellious, and would inevitably enjoy the support of the surrounding
Arab world. Such a settlement would solve nothing. British officials and
Arab heads of state (who, of course, feared to state these views in
public) shared this view. That is why the British Labour Party Executive
in 1944 supported partition accompanied by transfer, and that is why
Jordan’s Emir Abdullah and Iraq’s prime minister Nuri Said, among other
Arab statesmen, supported such a population transfer if Palestine was to
be partitioned.

And, indeed, in 1947-1948 the Palestinian Arabs, supported by the
surrounding Arab world, rebelled against the U.N. partition resolution
and unleashed a bloody civil war, which was followed by a pan-Arab
invasion. The war resulted in a large, partial transfer of population.
The chaos that all had foreseen if Palestine were partitioned without an
orderly population transfer in fact enveloped the country. But this is
emphatically not to say, as Mearsheimer and Walt do, that the Zionists’
occasional ruminations about transfer were translated in 1947-1948 into
a overall plan and policy–unleashed, as they put it, when the
“opportunity came,” as if what occurred in 1948 was a general and
premeditated expulsion.

The Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan, which provided for a
Jewish state in 55 percent of Palestine with 550,000 Jews and between
400,000 and 500,000 Arabs. The Jewish Agency called on the Arabs to
desist from violence, and promised a life of beneficial co-existence. In
private, Zionist officials began planning agricultural and regional
development that took into account the large Arab minority and its
continued citizenship in the new Jewish state. Indeed, down to the end
of March 1948, after four months of the Palestinian Arab assault on the
Yishuv, backed by the Arab League, Zionist policy was geared to the
establishment of a Jewish state with a large Arab minority. Haganah
policy throughout these months was to remain on the defensive, to avoid
hitting civilians, and generally to refrain from spreading the
conflagration to parts of Palestine still untouched by warfare. Indeed,
on March 24, 1948, Yisrael Galili, the head of the Haganah National
Command, the political leadership of the organization, issued a secret
blanket directive to all brigades and units to abide by long-standing
official Zionist policy toward the Arab communities in the territory of
the emergent Jewish state–to secure “the full rights, needs, and
freedom of the Arabs in the Hebrew state without discrimination” and to
strive for “co-existence with freedom and respect,” as he put it. And
this was not a document devised for Western or U.N. eyes, with a
propagandistic purpose; it was a secret, blanket, internal operational
directive, in Hebrew.

It was only at the start of April, with its back to the wall (much of
the Yishuv, in particular Jewish Jerusalem, was being strangled by Arab
ambushes along the roads) and facing the prospect of pan-Arab invasion
six weeks hence, that the Haganah changed its strategy and went over to
the offensive, and began uprooting Palestinian communities,
unsystematically and without a general policy. Needless to say, the
invasion by the combined armies of the Arab states on May 15 only
hardened Yishuv hearts toward the Palestinians who had summoned the
invaders, whose declared purpose–as Azzam Pasha, the secretary-general
of the Arab League, put it–was to re-enact a Mongol-like massacre, or,
as others said, to drive the Jews into the sea. And yet Israel never
adopted a general policy of expulsion (or incarceration–as did the
United States in its internment of Japanese-Americans during World War
II, without being under direct existential threat), which accounts for
the fact that 160,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became citizens in
1949. They accounted for more than 15 percent of the country’s population.

 From Mearsheimer and Walt, you would never suspect that the creation of
the Palestinian refugee problem in 1948 occurred against the backdrop,
and as the result, of a war–a war that for the Jews was a matter of
survival, and which those same Palestinians and their Arab brothers had
launched. To omit this historical background is bad history–and stark
dishonesty. It is quite true, and quite understandable, that the Israeli
government during the war decided to bar a return of the refugees to
their homes–to bar the return of those who, before becoming refugees,
had attempted to destroy the Jewish state and whose continued loyalty to
the Jewish state, if they were readmitted, would have been more than
questionable. There was nothing “innocent,” as Mearsheimer and Walt put
it, about the Palestinians and their behavior before their
eviction-evacuation in 1947-1948 (as there was nothing innocent about
Haj Amin al Husseini’s work for the Nazis in Berlin from 1941 to 1945,
broadcasting anti-Allied propaganda and recruiting Muslim troops for the
Wehrmacht). And what befell the Palestinians was not “a moral crime,”
whatever that might mean; it was something the Palestinians brought down
upon themselves, with their own decisions and actions, their own
historical agency. But they like to deny their historical agency, and
many “sympathetic” outsiders like to abet them in this illusion, which
is significantly responsible for their continued statelessness.


One last historical point, about contemporary history. Mearsheimer and
Walt recycle the canard that Israel and the United States offered the
Palestinians nothing of worth, nothing that they should have accepted,
in the negotiations in 2000. They write that Barak’s peace proposals at
Camp David offered the Palestinians “a disarmed and dismembered set of
‘Bantustans’ under de facto Israeli control.” But according to the most
reliable witnesses and participants in the talks–and the Palestinian
side, for good reason, has never produced a detailed description of the
negotiations at Camp David, a day-by-day account of who offered what and
when–by the end of the Camp David negotiation in the summer of 2000
Barak had offered the Palestinians a state comprising 90 to 91 percent
of the West Bank, 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, and functional control
of parts of East Jerusalem. A bridge or tunnel would have connected the
West Bank and Gaza. Was this really not a reasonable basis for
Palestinian sovereignty? But Arafat said no and walked out, and the
Palestinians launched the second intifada.

And unlike what readers might infer from Mearsheimer and Walt, this was
not the end of that year’s diplomatic process. In December, President
Clinton–with Barak’s approval–improved the deal, offering the
Palestinians 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank (with territorial
compensation elsewhere for the 4 to 6 percent lost), 100 percent of the
Gaza Strip, sovereignty over East Jerusalem including at least half of
the Old City, sovereignty over the surface of the disputed Temple Mount,
and massive help to rehabilitate the refugees. Again the Palestinians
said no, and continued shooting. The Israeli Cabinet, with a heavy
heart, endorsed the Clinton parameters. The Americans and the Israelis,
contrary to Mearsheimer and Walt, most certainly offered the
Palestinians “a viable state of their own.” It was precisely such a
state that the Palestinians, in their stupidity, turned down.

Accurate descriptions and maps of the Israeli offer in July and the
Israeli-endorsed Clinton parameters of December–as well as the
Palestinians’ spurious map of what was offered them–may be found in
Dennis Ross’s The Missing Peace. Ross was the chief American Middle East
negotiator. (Mearsheimer and Walt rely on a map contained in The New
Intifada, edited by Roane Carey; but Ross, unlike Carey, was party to
and knew in great detail what went on, and was privy to all the
documentation.) In his autobiography, Clinton backs to the hilt Ross’s
version of what was said and offered (as does Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was
the Israeli foreign minister at the time, in his recent book Scars of
War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, which elsewhere is
highly critical of Israel). All three state clearly that Arafat said no.
Mearsheimer and Walt, amateur students of the subject with a political
ax to grind, transform this no into a yes.

I say amateur students because there are outrageously incorrect historical
assertions in Mearsheimer and Walt’s work, often buried in the
footnotes. For instance, footnote 10 states: “It is also worth noting
that the British favored the Zionists over the Palestinians during the
period of the British Mandate (1919-1948).” But during the Mandate, both
Arabs and Jews were “Palestinians”; and the Mandate began de facto in
1917-1918, when the British conquered Palestine, in two stages, from the
Turks; or in 1920, when the civilian administration was installed and
the San Remo conference endorsed the Mandate (“1919” is in any case a
meaningless date in this regard). And most importantly, the British
government clearly “favored” Zionism in the years between 1917 and 1936
(though many of its officers and officials in Palestine, including some
of the high commissioners, did not); but it certainly did not in the
years between 1938 and 1948. In 1939, Whitehall published a White Paper
that portended and backed the establishment in Palestine of an
Arab-majority state (Husseini rejected that, too); and in 1947 the
British abstained when the U.N. General Assembly authorized partition
and Jewish statehood; and in 1947-1948 the British provided the Egyptian
and Iraqi armies with arms and advice, and in 1948 they provided money,
arms, and leadership to the Jordanian Army, the Arab Legion, as it
battled the Jewish state under the command of a British officer, John
Glubb. The British can hardly be described in 1939-1948 as pro-Zionist,
though Ben-Gurion’s traditional depiction of them in 1948 as
orchestrating the pan-Arab assault on Israel was also wide of the mark.

Consider some other examples. On page 6, Mearsheimer and Walt assert
that Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American naval intelligence analyst in
the 1980s, provided Israel with classified American material, “which
Israel reportedly passed onto the Soviet Union to gain more exit visas
for Soviet Jewry.” To the best of my knowledge, this is a lie. On page
9, Mearsheimer and Walt write that “citizenship [of Israel] is based on
the principle of blood kinship.” This is an outrageous assertion, with
the worst possible echoes. The truth is that since the state’s
inception, 15 to 20 percent of Israel’s citizens have been Muslim and
Christian Arabs. In 1948-1949, citizenship was granted to all persons
living in the country, regardless of race or religion, and it is granted
by law after five years of residency and the satisfaction of various
qualifications (as in all western democracies) to applicants today
regardless of race or religion–though it is true that Jewish immigrants
can and do receive citizenship upon arrival in Israel, and it is also
true that Israel is a Jewish state, as France is (and, I hope, will
remain) a French state and Britain is a British state. On page 12,
Mearsheimer and Walt write, referring to my book Israel’s Border Wars,
1949-1956, that Israel’s retaliatory strikes in the early 1950s “were
actually part of a broader effort to expand Israel’s borders.” This is
incorrect–and had they used my book honestly, they could not have
reached such a conclusion. On page 10, they observe that “The Arabs …
had been in continuous possession of [Palestine] for 1300 years,” which
is incorrect, and that there were “only about 15,000 Jews in Palestine”
in 1882, which is also incorrect. (Typically, Mearsheimer and Walt cite
as their authority Justin McCarthy’s The Population of Palestine,
without noting that he also assumed the existence of additional
thousands of Jews in Palestine who were not Ottoman citizens.) And so on.

In their introduction, Mearsheimer and Walt tell their readers that “the
facts recounted here are not in serious dispute among scholars…. The
evidence on which they rest is not controversial.” This is ludicrous. I
would offer their readers a contrary proposition: that the “facts”
presented by Mearsheimer and Walt suggest a fundamental ignorance of the
history with which they deal, and that the “evidence” they deploy is so
tendentious as to be evidence only of an acute bias. That is what will
be not in serious dispute among scholars.

BENNY MORRIS, a professor Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University,
is the author, most recently, of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee
Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press).


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