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Book Review


Shulze, Kirsten E. The Arab-Israeli Conflict. (London and New York: Longman, 1999). 148 pp, $17.80.


     The Arab-Israeli Conflict is one of the exclusive issues to magnetize the interests of world historians, specialists, and the general public. Experts of the conflict, Ann Lesch, Efraim Karsh, Laila Parsons, and Marc Tessler, have written academic monographs and articles which are insightful. However, world historians and the general public do not have easy access to their work, and the media coverage offers only basic information and only when the conflict erupts into physical and lethal confrontations.

     A later addition to Seminar Studies in History, The Arab-Israeli Conflict by London School of Economics senior history lecturer Kirsten E. Schulze aims to bridge the gap between those who do not know very much and those who know too much about the Arab-Israeli conflict and its implications. While adding nothing original to the scholarship on the conflict, The Arab-Israeli Conflict, acquaints readers with the evolution of the scholarship and provides a concise summary of the conflict worth reading for world history students interested in politics and conflict resolution.

     The Arab-Israeli Conflict begins its four-part analysis with the foundation of Arab and Jewish Zionist nationalisms. The era of imperialism before the First World War, the first part suggests ushered in a parallel escalation of Arabism and Zionism that were piloted by intellectuals with "predominantly secular political ideologies based on emancipation and self-determination (p.1)."  The founders of these nationalisms interpreted political and historical contexts from perspectives in such conflict with each other that subsequent political and military clashes became obvious.  The common ground that connected Arabism and Zionism in historical context was that they began as community reactions to Ottoman authorities and European imperialism. This introductory chapter is in this reviewer's opinion the only chapter in which the reader would not be overwhelmed by the too-many-facts-with-inadequate-analysis nature of the work that the following three chapters contain.

     The following chapter "Wars and Peace" deals with the complicated issues of the conflict from the 1948 War to the post 1991 Middle East peace process. The primary issues are the birth of Israel, British and American diplomacy, great refugee crises, dis/continuities in  the Arab coalition against Israel, the establishment and development of Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, and the ongoing reciprocal misunderstandings, rapacity, and desolation of both Israelis and Arabs.

     The author argues that the War of 1948 made potential negotiations impossible because it gratified neither side. Furthermore, the tone for future conflicts remained in effect even after minor revisions came with the Oslo mediation process in 1991.  The United Nations Security Resolution 242, which followed the 1967 Six Day War, proposed to the involved parties the most feasible elements for an ultimate resolution of the conflict. The resolution acknowledged the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the area, emphasized "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," and endorsed impartial settlement of the refugee problem. But the hard-liner Arab leaders won over Nasser and King Hussein in the Khartoum Submit in 1967 at the same time that Israeli Herut and the National Religious Party eventually succeeded in mounting an opposition to territorial compromise put forward by the resolution. Thus, the resolution did not settle the conflict nor did the Madrid Peace Process 25 five years after.

     The focus returns to the War of 1948 suggesting that it dislodged and marginalized Palestinians and brought Jerusalem to the international attention as all the parties centered their political commercial and religious interests into that city. The October War (1973) demystified Israeli invincibility in the minds of Arabs. The Lebanese Civil War led to the 1982 Lebanon War, and Arabs and Israelis drifted into involvement.  The Intifada incident of 1987, with an Israeli army transport's crash into a line of Arab cars killing and wounding many, created international complications. Taken together these occurrences showed that the core of the conflict is the Palestinian problem.

     "Part III: Assessment" reviews the major peace efforts of Israelis and Palestinians in five concluding pages which this reviewer argues is crucial if the reader is  to grasp the author's point of view. The main reason why the Arab-Israeli Conflict never reached a peaceful resolution is that Israelis and Palestinians have demanded unreasonable concessions from each other while promising much less in return. Therefore, the process of attrition and physical confrontation has become the norm. When poor timing, uncompromised domestic factions, incompetent or overly enthusiastic nationalist leaders are added to this vista; the situation comes to today's situation.  In the author's opinion, the Arab-Israeli Conflict can be overcome only if symmetrical balance between Palestinians and Israelis can be supported by the recognition that "a conflict cannot be resolved through military means, effectively a stalemate, is also required as a condition for negotiation and compromise" (p.95)

     The Arab Israeli Conflict is a reasonably concise survey book that world history teachers may assign their college level students as a supplementary reading. There are three major problems that this reviewer believes the book suffers from and that teachers should be careful about. First, the language is tedious; and students may be bored reading through it.  Little longer than an encyclopedic entry, it unexcitingly outlines the political and military developments with much reference to and definition of events. Even psychoanalyses of leaders such as is done with the comparison between the Egyptian leaders Gamal Abdel Nasser and Enver al-Sadat is quite interesting,but it may not be enough to attract the reader to learn about the overwhelming chronological input inside the book. Perhaps, it is a failed attempt to summarize a century old Arab-Israeli conflict in a one hundred page survey book.

     Second, the book has weaknesses in informing the reader of what really happened. For instance, it shows that one element in Arab nationalism was "the strong anti-Turkish sentiment as a reaction to centuries of Ottoman control but also to the 1908 Young Turks revolution" However, it later talks about the first Arab Congress in Paris in 1913 that aimed "Arab participation in the Ottoman central government". (p.3)   If Arab nationalism, which is argued as the main reason along with Zionism for the Arab-Israeli Conflict, rose as a reaction to Ottoman control; why did the founding fathers of Arab nationalism promote in their first and most influential meeting in Paris the participation of Arabs in the Ottoman government? Neither the definition of Ottoman control nor the regional contextualization of nationalism is undertaken.

     A third and less serious problem has to do with the sources on which the book relies. The book including "the archival documents" given at the end heavily relies on the existing literature mainly from the documentary history of Bernard Reich on the conflict. Although the work is intended to be a seminar study and addresses the beginning student well for the study of the Arab Israeli conflict, students might justifiably like to see a research conducted on the primary sources by the author, and teachers would enjoy discussions of original arguments as well as reiteration of old and new interpretations on the conflict.



Emrah Sahin
McGill University


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