Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America's Fight|
by Norman Spector
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|A Review of: Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America∆s Fight
by Michael Hale
Watching from an ocean-and really, an entire world-away, the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute tends to look fairly simple. Brutal,
but simple. Two sides, divided by religion and years of war, are
at each others' throats, and civilians are paying the price with
their lives. Follow the North American media coverage, and you're
likely to get the impression that a few extremists on each side are
prolonging a war the majority does not want any part of. But it
isn't that simple. As Norman Spector points out in Chronicle of a
War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America's Fight, peace efforts
are hamstrung as much by bungled diplomacy, internal political
machinations and ideological intransigence, as by any sustained
terror campaign. The graphic violence that regularly erupts is
really just the extremists trying to be heard over the deafening
din of bickering among moderates. Basically, it's a political dispute
that gets much of its color-predominantly blood red-from an infusion
of religion. "[The conflict's] always been about two national
movements fighting for the same tiny territory," he writes in
the book's prologue. "Throw in more than a dollop of religious
fundamentalism, and you have the recipe for an explosive conflict."
The book attempts to provide a roadmap of the conflict's developments,
disappointments and near misses over the past decade.
And as a former Canadian ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian
authority, and later as a publisher of the Jerusalem Post, Spector
is a decent guide. Unfortunately, other than some chapter introductions,
the book offers nothing new. It collects 50 of Spector's columns
published in the Globe and Mail over the past eight years, which
though interesting, provide little in-depth analysis. Columns, by
necessity, are brief and very focused. They are inevitably only
snapshots of a particular moment in time. Packing 50 such columns
between two covers doesn't create depth. It just generates a
retrospective album. Nor does the book, as the title suggests, draw
a clear link between the conflict and the events of 9/11. But it
does give a quick dose of Israeli political history and offer an
interesting perspective on the Western response to the conflict.
And, for that, Spector starts at home: "Invited to make a
presentation to this think-tank on Canada's Mideast policy, I began
by stressing that with no colonial past and as a middle power, our
only interest is promoting peace," wrote Spector in his prologue
about one of his first diplomatic speeches. "A skeptical
academic immediately intervened, insisting that I must either be
lying or representing a nave country."
Skeptical readers should take the same stance with all books on the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Everybody who writes about the issue
comes to the debate with a bias, and Spector is no different. Jewish
himself, Spector wears his bias on his sleeve.
"Christians are not permitted to pray in Saudi Arabia. Heads
still nod in agreement on the Arab Street' when bin Laden urges
them to drive Jews and Crusaders' (Christians) out of the Middle
East and the Persian Gulf. And some cheer when his minions incinerate
office workers in New York or when Hamas suicide bombers blow up
school kids on Jerusalem buses. This extremism-not the more recent
occupation-is the root cause of the Mideast conflict."
And later, when addressing Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah's
peace proposal last year: "Pity it took the Arab world so long
to come to its senses: Had they not waged war in 1947-48-when the
United Nations voted to create Palestine alongside Israel-there
would today be no Israeli occupation and no settlements. Nor need
tens of thousands have died needlessly. And there would be no
Palestinian refugees living in squalor."
If only the Palestinians weren't so damn unreasonable, the argument
goes, there would be peace in the Middle East. And while Israel
isn't helping with its constant political turmoil, it is far more
willing to compromise than the Palestinian authority, he argues.
That is, Palestinian leaders are hotheads who can't control their
own people, while the reasonable Israelis just across the barbed
wire are just trying their best in the face of immense odds. His
stance is rife with stereotyping, and at its worst, borders on
veiled racism. But as grating as it can get, with Spector's biases
so garishly on display, the book's positives aren't entirely
Where Spector soars is not in his analysis of the dispute itself,
but in his scathing commentary on North Americans' response to it.
In particular, his dissection of the slow breakdown of the 1993
Oslo Peace Accord highlights the facile understanding we often bring
to our analysis of the dispute.
"I don't know whether the Middle East conflict began 4,000
years ago, with the story of Abraham and his two sons; or 1,400
years ago, with the rise of Islam; or a mere 100 years ago, with
the founding of the Zionist movement. However, only a generation
raised on Hollywood movies - and only one that has reared its own
children on Sesame Street - could believe that a handshake on the
White House lawns meant that peace had broken out in the region."
Spector repeatedly rips the Canadian government's ham-fisted diplomacy
over the past decade, and paints a disturbing image of how inept
our politicians must look to those who live outside our borders.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Foreign Minister Bill Graham are
seen in a particularly unflattering light. But all that is old news.
Presented on the back cover as a cohesive, focused "look at
how crumbling Mideast relations dashed the promise of peace and
brought death and destruction to the United States on September
11th, 2001," readers will be disappointed. What's missing is
a real attempt to tackle the issue, reaching back to territorial
claims and past wars and stretching into analysis of recent events
and their impact on global events. If you are an ardent subscriber
to the notion that Palestine, not Israel, is responsible for the
majority of the violence, read this book. It will reinscribe your
beliefs. If, on the other hand, you sympathize with the Palestinians,
Spector's tone and focus will only enrage you.
And as for the rest-the moderates-seek Spector out. He won't offer
you the Sesame Street answers he suggests you want, but he does
provide a decent channel guide for future surfing.