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
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is not an easy book. It's not that Said's ideas are difficult to grasp, but rather, as Said says in his introduction, "this is the first of my books to have been written from start to finish with an Arab audience in mind.'' Perhaps even more than is usual for Said, author of The Politics of Dispossession and a member of the Palestine National Council from 1979-91, the book has a decidedly partisan spin as when he is shocked that "a Palestinian negotiator once believed that Palestinians were a threat to the settlers!'' Still, beyond the rhetoric, readers will find very valid points aimed at both fellow Arabs and the international community. He chides the Arab world for nondemocratic governments and for negotiating without adequate understanding of America and Israel and without knowing their own resources-people, land and water. And he has very real concerns following the Oslo agreement: its failure to address all Palestinians-those in Israel, in the Occupied Territories and the vast diaspora-and the ghettoization of West Bank towns by the $600-million road system announced (post-Oslo) for the Occupied Territories. But generally, Said is an idealist, calling for absolute parity in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Pragmatically, however, the PLO is negotiating from a position of relative weakness that was made more acute by its disastrous position during the Gulf War, which left it cash-strapped; public feeling in Israel means that a strong Palestinian presence in Jerusalem is unlikely; and, however he tries to downplay it, terrorism is a major factor in Israeli and international attitudes toward Palestinians. (Jan.)
Said, a Palestinian intellectual with impeccable credentials that carry him well within both the halls of American academia and Palestinian political forums, despairs over the failure of his community's leadership to achieve a solid set of goals in the present negotiating process. Most of the material presented here has appeared elsewhere in Arabic-language papers or in one of Said's many publications, but all was written originally for an Arab audience. While the theme may appear to be redundant to many-the Palestinians caved in to U.S. pressure and obstinate Israeli demands without exploiting their advantage of moral position and sound political objectives-the thought processes and manner of deliberation exhibited by Said require attention by everyone interested in the topic. Said's sentiment is echoed by other Palestinians such as Mohamed Rabie (U.S.-PLO Dialogue, Univ. Pr. of Florida, 1995). Recommended for students of diplomacy and in particular the current Palestinian-Israeli peace process.-Sanford R. Silverburg, Catawba Coll., Salisbury, N.C.