Sunday, May 2, 2010

Efraim Karsh's "Palestine Betrayed"

Efraim Karsh is professor and head of the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College London. His books include Islamic Imperialism: A History; The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Palestine War, 1948; Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography; and Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1923.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Palestine Betrayed, and reported the following:
My latest book Palestine Betrayed rejects conventional ideas about the collapse and dispersal of Palestinian Arab society during the 1948 war, called al-Naqba or the catastrophe by Palestinians. Drawing on a wealth of recently declassified documents, it presents a new interpretation of the Naqba and of the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

While many view the Naqba as an unavoidable result of the struggle between two national movements for the same land, I argue that there was nothing inevitable about the Palestinian-Jewish confrontation. Not only had the Zionist movement always been amenable both to a substantial non-Jewish minority existing on an equal footing with others in the prospective Jewish state, and to the two-state solution, but it went out of its way to foster Arab-Jewish coexistence. In the 30 years from the end of the First World War to the proclamation of the state of Israel on 14 May 1948, Zionist spokesmen held hundreds of meetings with Arab leaders at all levels, while ordinary Jews lived side by side with their Arab neighbors, who for their part were eager to take advantage of opportunities created by the evolving Jewish national enterprise. Consequently, throughout the Mandate era (1920-48) the periods of peaceful coexistence far exceeded those of violent eruptions, and the latter were the work of only a small fraction of Palestinian Arabs.

The breakdown of this coexistence was the result of a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival waged from the early 1920s onward by the corrupt and extremist Palestinian Arab leadership headed by the militant Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin Husseini. This culminated in the violent attempt, supported by the entire Arab world, to abort the UN resolution of 29 November 1947, stipulating for the partition of mandatory Palestine into two states - one Jewish, the other Arab, linked in an economic union. Had the Arab leaders accepted the UN resolution, there would have been no war and no dislocation.

Page 99 fits nicely into this thesis in that it describes both the Mufti’s war preparations (including the assassination of moderate Palestinian Arab leaders) in the run up to the UN vote, and the animosity and distrust between the Palestinian leaders and their Arab counterparts, which played a crucial role in the creation of the Palestinian tragedy.
Learn more about Palestine Betrayed at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue