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Edward Said -- the renowned literary critic, Palestinian intellectual and political activist -- has spent much of his life, both on and off the page, working to bring about a "true reconciliation" between Israel and Palestine. Said's latest book, Peace and Its Discontents, is a collection of twenty recent essays on the Middle East peace process, reprinted from several leading Arabic-language newspapers and from journals like The Nation and the London Review of Books. Readers interested in Middle East politics, especially those sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle, will find this book a useful, engaging guide to some of the wrenching debates taking place in that troubled region. Unfortunately, these pieces often overlap and relentlessly drive home a single point: that the peace accord between Israel and the PLO is a sham. Said occasionally strays from Middle East politics to accuse the U.S. of being an "imperial power" eager to exploit Palestinian markets, but for the most part he condemns Yasir Arafat and his cronies (whom he compares to Vichy French collaborators) for signing an agreement that gives Israel "all of its tactical and strategic objectives at the expense of nearly every proclaimed principle of Arab and Palestinian nationalism and struggle." The PLO, Said writes, betrayed the Palestinian people by relinquishing Palestinian claims to Jerusalem and ruining any hopes of an independent Palestinian state.
Said offers few concrete suggestions for improving the situation. Although he renounces violence, his vague calls for a new Palestinian resistance movement seem unlikely to resolve the profound political and economic problems that plague the Middle East. Said's prose is as elegant as ever, and he calls much-needed attention to the sufferings of the Palestinian people. But more than anything else, Peace and Its Discontents reminds us of the fierce nationalists -- on all sides -- who reject compromise and concessions in favor of militancy and patriotism. -- Salon