THE CHARIOT OF ISRAEL: Britain, America and the State of Israel by Harold Wilson

THE CHARIOT OF ISRAEL: Britain, America and the State of Israel

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ever since the 1917 Balfour Declaration declared that ""His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,"" the history of Israel has been entwined with British foreign policy. Former Prime Minister Wilson, who helped mediate the Six Day War cease-fire, narrates the history of that relationship without stirring up much fuss or adding anything significant to our understanding of Israel's origins. The Balfour Declaration itself is treated as a sensible document reflecting a desire on the part of British statesmen to help the Jews--and Chaim Weizmann's successful argument that the Jews needed a home and it should be in Palestine. The enormous muddle created by the Declaration's ambiguity, aside from the presumptions of the British in issuing it, go relatively unexplored by Wilson; he treats the subsequent plans for partition more as a necessity than as the result of a badly planned initial intervention. Emphasizing Labour's friendship toward Israel, Wilson recounts the interminable wrangling that went on within the Attlee government at the end of World War Two--resulting in virtually no policy at all and allowing Truman to take the initiative. Britain's next big blunder in the Middle East was the Suez Crisis, when Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt, ostensibly to protect the Suez Canal as an international waterway. Wilson is aware of the argument that the action was taken to overthrow Nasser; but he confines himself to platitudes about the Canal's inviolability and endorses then-Labour leader Gaitskell's position that the whole affair should have been dealt with in the UN (i.e., the operation was legitimate, just bungled). Suez ended Britain's influence in the Middle East; by the time of the Six Day War it was merely a spectator, and Wilson's role in mediating the dispute was marginal. He does recall de Gaulle, resigned to France's exit from the Middle East, taking a do-nothing attitude: as Suez marked the eclipse of Britain, so the Six Day War marked the withdrawal of France. By the time of the Yom Kippur War, Wilson was in the Opposition, and his remembrances of that event are peripheral. As a Prime Minister, Wilson was cautious and noncommittal; and so he is here.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1982
Publisher: Norton