DYING TO FORGET by Irene L. Gendzier


Oil, Power, Palestine, and the Foundations of U.S. Policy in the Middle East
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A Middle East scholar uncovers the post–World War II history of American policy in Palestine.

From the beginning, it’s been about oil. From the end of the British Mandate to the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan to Israel’s declaration of independence to the Lausanne Conference designed to deal with refugees and repatriation, U.S. policy in Palestine/Israel was determined by the overriding importance of oil. Gendzier (Emerita, Political Science/Boston Univ.; Notes From the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-1958, etc.) meticulously reassembles the bureaucratic record from 1945 to 1949, most of it already known, emphasizing previously overlooked or neglected bits of evidence to demonstrate that U.S. officials understood from the beginning the problems on the ground in Palestine, the need for consensus between Jews and Arabs, the unwillingness of the Jewish Agency to accept anything but an immediate, independent Jewish state, and the subsequent catastrophe for the Palestinians. Why, then, did U.S. policymakers shift from cold-eyed criticism of Israeli unilateralism to support for the “transfer of Palestinians out of Jewish controlled areas” (even as they acknowledged Israeli responsibility for the refugee problem) to silence and, finally, to deference, to accommodating Israeli policies previously “considered unacceptable?” Gendzier attributes the transformation to the “oil connection,” to the gradual understanding by U.S. officials, including the Joint Chiefs and petroleum industry executives, that Israel’s unanticipated military superiority obviated the need to choose between oil interests and Israel and that Israel could act as a guarantor for the uninterrupted flow of oil, as a regional deputy, and as a force to keep the Soviet Union at bay. With oil and defense as priorities, justice for the Palestinians fell by the wayside. The author nails each of these policy transitions, some subtle, some not, to the written record, compiling an almost bulletproof brief.

Vital reading for those looking to understand, 65 years later, the origins of the continuing conflict in the Middle East.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-231-15288-4
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2015


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