Peter Beinart is stuck in 1999

Poor Peter Beinart. He’s stuck in 1999 and he can’t get out. Those who read his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, will encounter the same arguments that we all heard — and many of us made — in that simpler time. But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past dozen years, you’ll find that his fantasy fails to persuade.

In 2000, the illusions of 1999 were shattered. 2000 was the year in which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state in over 91% the West Bank and Gaza, including most of East Jerusalem. It was also the year in which Barak’s government agreed to make even greater concessions under bridging parameters proposed by President Clinton. And 2000 was the year when the Palestinians not only rejected these offers, but responded with the ferocious violence of the second intifada.

When the most generous Israeli peace offer on record was met with the bloodiest terrorism on record, many of us were forced to abandon our prior assumptions. The Israeli left collapsed under the weight of its intellectual failure. And many of the left’s most influential leaders — including Prime Minister Barak and historian Benny Morris — updated their views accordingly. They still support a two-state solution. They just don’t want to repeat the mistake of abandoning land in the absence of sufficient security arrangements.

Yet Peter Beinart floats above this challenging record. In his narrative, Israel “made itself master” of millions of Palestinians in 1967. And now Israel should “permit” the creation of a Palestinian state. All Israel needs to do to have peace is choose peace!

To be fair, Beinart does reference some of the unfortunate events of 2000 and beyond. But he dismisses them with a superficiality that belies his objectivity. Yes, he admits, Arafat bears “part of the responsibility” for the failure to reach a peace deal in Camp David and Taba. But he proceeds to place the lion’s share of the blame on Israel.

Beinart’s effort to explain away the 2000 intifada is even less satisfying. “By 2000,” he notes, “many Palestinians were ready for war. And that fall, Israeli leaders lit the fuse.” He’s referring here to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount which, even if provocative, was hardly an excuse for mass murder.

Beinart acknowledges that far from stopping this terrorism, Arafat participated in it. But while admitting that “Arafat’s decision to ride the tiger of Palestinian violence was no small offense,” he goes on to gloss over its implications. As he reminds us, “Palestinians held for decades as noncitizens by an occupying army will periodically rebel, sometimes in dignified and nonviolent ways, sometimes in grotesque and unforgivable ways.”

That’s it. That’s all the reader learns of the second intifada. There’s no mention of the repeated suicide bombings of Israeli buses and restaurants. There’s no mention of the over 1,000 Israeli civilians killed, and the thousands more maimed, in these attacks.