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The June 1967 war was a watershed in the history of the modern Middle East. In six days, the Israelis defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies, seizing large portions of their territories. Two veteran scholars of the Middle East bring together some of the most knowledgeable experts in their fields to reassess the origins and the legacies of the war. Each chapter takes a different perspective from the vantage point of a different participant, those that actually took part in the war and also the world powers that played important roles behind the scenes. Their conclusions make for sober reading. At the heart of the story was the incompetence of the Egyptian leadership and the rivalry between various Arab players who were deeply suspicious of each other's motives. Israel, on the other side, gained a resounding victory for which, despite previous assessments to the contrary, there was no master plan.
In 1897, under order of First Zionist Congress president Theodor Herzl, two Austrian rabbis traveled to Palestine to explore the possibility of locating a Jewish state there. "The bride is beautiful," the rabbis cabled Herzl, "but she is married to another man." That "other man" was the Palestinian Arab nation, long established in the region as a political entity. Undeterred, Herzl pressed on with his program of emigration, ignoring Palestine's existing occupants and creating in the process what came to be known as the "Arab question." In this far-ranging history, Avi Shlaim analyzes that question in remarkable detail, tracing the shifting policies of Israel toward the Palestinians and the Arab world at large. Herzl, he writes, followed a policy that consciously sought to enlist the great powers--principally Britain and later the United States--while dismissing indigenous claims to sovereignty; after all, Herzl argued, "the Arab problem paled in significance compared with the Jewish problem because the Arabs had vast spaces outside Palestine, whereas for the Jews, who were being persecuted in Europe, Palestine constituted the only possible haven." This policy later changed to a stance of confrontation against the admittedly hostile surrounding Arab powers, especially Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; this militant stance was a source of controversy in the international community, and it also divided Israelis into hawk and dove factions. The intransigence of those hawks, Shlaim shows, served to alienate Israel and made it possible for the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab nationalist groups to enlist the support of the great powers that Herzl had long before courted. Both sides, in turn, had eventually to face the "historic compromise" that led to the present peace in the Middle East--a peace that, the author suggests, may not endure. There is no question that Shlaim presents compelling evidence for a revaluation of traditional Israeli history. A great deal has been learned in the past 15 years because of researchers like him.
With characteristic rigor and readability, Avi Shlaim reflects on a range of key issues, transformations and personalities in the Israel-Palestine conflict. From the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the 2008 invasion of Gaza, Israel and Palestine places current events in their proper historical perspective, and assesses the impact of key political and intellectual figures, including Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon, Edward Said and Benny Morris. It also re-examines the United States' influential role in the conflict, and explores the many missed opportunities for peace and progress. Clear-eyed and meticulous, Israel and Palestine is an essential tool for understanding the fractured history and future prospects of the region.
For most of his long reign (1953-1999) Hussein of Jordan was one of the dominant figures in Middle Eastern politics, and one of the most consistent proponents of peace with Israel. This is the first major account of his life and reign, written with access to many of his surviving papers, with the co-operation (but not approval) of his family and staff, and extensive interviews with policy-makers of many different nationalities. Shlaim reveals that for the sake of dynastic and national survival, Hussein initiated a secret dialogue with Israel in 1963, and spent over 1000 hours in talks with Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Itzhak Shamir, Itzhak Rabin, and countless other Israeli officials. Shlaim reconstructs this dialogue across the battle-lines from new Israeli records and first-hand accounts by many of the key participants, demonstrating that Israeli intransigence was largely responsible for the failure to achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict between 1967 and 1994.
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