THE ARAB STATES AND THE PALESTINIAN CONFLICT by Barry Rubin
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THE ARAB STATES AND THE PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

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There has always been a tendency to fashion an ""Arab position"" on Israel and Palestine, but as Georgetown University's Rubin (Paved with Good Intentions: Iran and the American Experience) shows, no such unitary view has or probably will exist. Rubin establishes at the outset the importance of Palestine for the Arab states: the doctrine of unification is a central one in the Islamic worldview (where there are no clear lines between politics and religion), and Palestine has been a part of that political and geographical conception. But while the area known as Palestine has had this status, it has not been seen as a separate entity; rather, parts of Palestine have been claimed by different Arab states, notably Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. That legacy may be seen in the fragmentation of the Palestinian guerrilla groups (the PLO was originally an Egyptian creation, while Al-Fatah was Syrian-inspired). Thus, Palestine plays a role in Arab politics on two levels: ideologically, it has a unifying role, but in terms of state interests it can be divisive. And the militancy engendered by the ideology often undercuts national interests. Rubin traces both levels in historical context, beginning with the early Zionist movement and Arab moves toward national independence, when the two groups supported each other for mutual benefit. This brief period of abstract hope--Herzl and T. E. Lawrence, among others, dreamed of mutual trade-offs--gradually faded in the post-WW I years as all sides jockeyed for position. As late as 1922, Zionists and Arabs were still meeting with an eye toward uniting to expel Britain and France from the Middle East; but these efforts were finally undermined by the Western powers. By 1929, attacks against Jews in Palestine by Palestinian Arabs signaled the start of nationalist movements within the Arab states--nationalist movements that used the cause of Palestine as ideological ammunition against Arab leaders. From then on, political power depended on a militant position vis-à-vis Palestine. Arab reaction to the partition of 1948 is a sample of the fractious consequences of this confusing interplay: once the decision to go to war was reached (early in Damascus, late in Cairo), the actual planning for battle was a side-issue and the result was mass confusion--illustrated by Transjordan's unilateral decision to announce an invasion upon the withdrawal of the British, aiming at uniting Transjordan and Palestine without consideration of the other Arab states. The aftermath of the 1948 debacle has been the rise in stature of Arab military elites over their political rivals, who took the blame for the defeat. The historical narrative ends with the 1956 crisis; only an opening overview places the policies of Sadat in any perspective, which is unfortunate. But for a history of the Middle East conflict with the confusion put back in, Rubin's version is an excellent place to start--the only book to really address the subject from this perspective.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1981
Publisher: Syracuse Univ. Press