How painful listening to British historian and biographer of Stalin, Simon Sebag Montefiore, on Radio National's Late Night Live (21/4/11), telling us how hard he's tried to be objective in his new history of Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The Biography.
Painful because, whatever the merits of his book, it's clear that once he hits the 20th century if not before (I haven't read the book) he becomes a mere propagandist for the Zionist project:
"One of the greatest challenges of this book is... obviously I'm Jewish, my family has a part in the story. I should just say I sweated blood in this book to ensure that it's even-handed and I've told both stories with ruthless clarity, I hope. So I haven't shied away from recording Jewish atrocities as well as Arab atrocities for example. That has been my great challenge, and, yes, I think that, of course, I'm against any political violence, but people who are terrorists can come in from the cold and be statesmen, and I think some of the PLO leadership have done that and have signed peace and have become or tried to become... um, you know, concilators as well. But to do that, for peace to succeed, both sides have to recognise the heritage of the others, the rights of the others, the claims of the others, and in many cases the Palestinian negotiators and leadership such as Yasser Arafat have denied the Jewish heritage in Jerusalem, and at the same time far right Jewish people, Jewish factions have denied the Palestinian story and the Islamic story in Jerusalem."
So what's wrong with that? Let me count the ways:
1) His failure to differentiate Judaism from Zionism. 2) His failure to deal with his subject in the context of the Zionist colonial-settler project in Palestine as a whole. 3) His uncritical reference to Palestinian resistance to that project as 'terrorism' while failing to acknowledge that the roots of violence in Palestine lie, as in any other colonial situation, in its takeover by European colons against the wishes of its majority indigenous Palestinian Arab people. 4) His hypocrisy in citing Arafat as an example of a terrorist-turned-statesman, while avoiding any mention of the classic cases of actual Zionist terrorists, Irgun leader Begin and Stern Gang leader Shamir, becoming Israeli prime ministers. 5) His monumental failure to acknowledge the fundamental incompatibility between the Zionist goal of a state for Jews, and only Jews, the world over, and the right of Palestinians to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. 6) His intellectually dishonest attempt to portray the Zionist project as a moderate centre under siege by matching PLO 'extremists' on one side and Israeli settler extremists on the other.
And do I need to tell you that it was just as painful listening to his interlocutor and LNL presenter, Phillip Adams, whose mind was long ago horribly scarred by his youthful brushes with Zionism (See my 19/9/09 post He Just Doesn't Get It):
"I must say that in your efforts to be even-handed you point out that at various times in recent years Rabin, Barak, Olmert have all offered to share Jerusalem, including the Old City, but thus far the Palestinians have never agreed to share the city. Would everything change, Simon, if they did?"
So the Palestinians, who long ago agreed to settle, quite mistakenly in retrospect, for a Palestinian state on a mere 22% of their homeland, won't share Jerusalem with those nice folk who've been hankering, if Zionist mythology is to be believed, after a flat in Jerusalem 24/7 for the past 2,000 odd years and have, with a little help from their British and American mates, finally come knocking? Were the Palestinians the ones who said: 'Nick off!'? Well, as it happens, if the documentary record means anything, no they weren't:
"Oslo II was signed on September 28, 1995 in Washington... The protracted negotiations allowed Israel to impose its version of a settlement without addressing issues critical to the Palestinians, such as... the status of Jerusalem. Rabin outlined his vision of the future permanent settlement... an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli control..." (Israeli Rejectionism: A Hidden Agenda in the Middle East Peace Process, Amit & Levit, 2011, pp 116-117)
"On July 11, 2000... President Clinton convened... the Camp David II summit. Barak presented himself as a grand master of compromise who was about to make concessions of such magnitude that no Israeli leader before him would have considered. According to the Israeli press... Barak offered to divide the city of Jerusalem... This was believed to be true by many on all sides of the political spectrum, in large measure because of the terminological confusion surrounding the proposal. When dividing Jerusalem is discussed, it is usually assumed that East Jerusalem would be separated from West Jerusalem: East Jerusalem and its mostly Arab neighborhoods would be separated from Jewish West Jerusalem and become the capital of the Palestinian state. But at Camp David Israel did not offer East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as their future capital. It offered 3 villages located next to East Jerusalem, the largest being Abu Dis." (Amit & Levit, pp 130-133)
But even the Abu Dis pocket, which Arafat and earlier Israeli governments had accepted, proved too much for the sharing, caring Barak, who "reneged." (Amit & Levit p 133)
And PM Olmert? His so-called peace plan, which was never officially presented anyway, included no Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem. (See Olmert's plan excluded Jerusalem, offered limited 'land swap', Said Bannoura, imemc.org, 17/12/09)
And here's Montefiore agreeing with Adams: "I think so. The recent Palestinian leaks of Palestinian negotiators show that at different times they also offered or probed for this deal, but if they genuinely did offer to share and recognise the Jewish nature of Jerusalem as well then I think that the Israelis would recognise the Arab heritage as they have done by offering these deals throughout the last 20 years. I think there could be peace."
But surely the most painful thing of all is the thought of all those aging baby boomers out there (I'm imagining LNL's audience), who hang on Adams' every word, nodding their heads in agreement (if not actually nodding off to the sound of Adams' increasingly soporific voice), and soaking up the subtext: If only the Palestinians were a little less intransigent, we'd have peace and group hugs all round. And to think that Adams' audience - whether vast or miniscule - probably sees LNL as an oasis of rational and progressive comment in a mainstream media desert. Bloody painful that!