Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America's Fight

by Norman Spector
ISBN: 1550549758

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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 overshadowed.
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.

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