Ilan Pappe's The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict aims to debunk myths surrounding the conflict, primarily concerning the years 1948 and 1949, and provide a more detailed explanation of how Israel became a state and how Palestine became an occupied territory. The reason Pappe revisited this pivotal turning point in Middle East history is due to the recent opening of states' archives from the years 1947 to 1951. Pappe's version of the conflict incorporates state archives from all countries involved, and journals and private letters of participants in the conflict. Pappe, an Israeli citizen, is highly critical of the means Zionists took to create Israel in 1948. However, this work is not solely focused on the early creation of Israel and its founders. This work is also critical of the United Nations, United States, Britain, and the Arab states directly involved in the conflict, and their role in leaving Palestinians a stateless people. It is important to note, prior to 1948, Israel and the Palestinian Territories were referred to as Palestine or British Mandate Palestine. It is also important to note that the term Zionist refers to the Jews who fought in some form or fashion to create Israel. Not all Jews support the creation of Israel; therefore not all Jews are Zionists.
Pappe divides The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict in three parts concerning the causes of the conflict, the conflict itself, and the outcome. The causes, according to Pappe, can be traced through the relationship between Zionists and Britain. Pappe argues that this relationship was defined by Britain's military weakness experienced after the Second World War, Zionist sympathizers in Britain's government, and the relentless campaign by Zionists to expel British soldiers from Palestine. After the Second World War, the financial and military strength of Britain's occupying forces and administration in Palestine were considerably weakened. Zionist sympathizers and Zionists, such as Lord Baron Rothschild, used their power of authority and influence within Britain's government to support a Jewish state in Palestine. These two factors were central to the way Britain's administration in Palestine dealt with Zionist terrorism, and would ultimately shape Britain's policy of giving its control over Palestine to the UN.
According to Pappe, Britain wanted to cut its losses in Palestine and focus on more worthwhile ventures which did not involve an unstable population on the verge of a religious and ethnic conflict. Conflicts between Jews, of whom many were Zionist and largely recent immigrants from Europe, and Arabs increased as the political and socioeconomic balance were shifted from Arab hands to Jewish hands. The British occupying administration favored the Arabs in many of these conflicts, due to the hostility the British encountered by Zionists. Pappe argues that Zionist militias were able to weaken British military forces, infrastructure, and institutions, through acts of terrorism. This Zionist terrorism took the form of bombings and assassinations, and was largely justified by Zionists as recompense for Britain's immigration policy toward refugee Jews wanting to immigrate to Palestine. However, Britain's immigration policy in Palestine was put in place to prevent the escalation of ethnic and religious conflict .
Pappe gives a thorough account of UN response to the escalating tensions in 1948. He argues that the UN response was damaging to the Arab and Jewish relationship. The mediator role played by the UN favored a separation of Palestine in to two parts, one Jewish and one Arab. Pappe argues that the separation resolution produced by the UN was unfair to Palestinians based on the land to population ratio, and uneven access to water and arable land. After the British left and the UN initiated its resolution, an interstate conflict began between Jews, in what would become Israel, and Arab states.
The conflict was handled poorly and not taken seriously by the Arab states involved. Pappe disputes the traditional Arab narrative that Arab states were coming to rescue the Palestinians who were being forcefully expelled from their homes. He claims Arab states, particularly Jordan, saw the conflict as a way to exercise hegemony over Palestine and increase territory. Pappe also disputes the traditional Jewish narrative that most Palestinians had fled at their own free will to neighboring Arab states. He supports his claim of forced expulsion by outlining Plan Dalet, the expulsion plan, and its harsh predecessors, like Plan C.
Pappe methodically outlines why the wealthier and more populous coalition of Arab states suffered such a humiliating defeat at every front. He argues that the biggest mistakes Arab states made were not adequately preparing their armies, underestimating the Zionists' resilience and seemingly endless arms supply, and the distrust and lack of cooperation between Arab armies. Pappe also outlines how the Zionists were able to secure their positions and expel the Arab armies. He argues that many Zionists were better trained than the Arabs because Zionists had been fighting British occupation forces for a decade prior to the conflict. Many Zionists also received training from the British during the Second World War. Another advantage Zionists had was the many Jewish owned arms factories in Israel. Allied forces had used Palestine as a supply depot, and to compete with the much larger Egyptian supply depot.
The outcome of the conflict is outlined as the creation of a Jewish state, a large Palestinian refugee population spread out amongst neighboring Arab states, unsettled border disputes, and a "peace" which lay upon insecure cease-fire treaties. Pappe argues that the creation of a Jewish state did serve in some people's minds as a warranted and necessary response to the atrocities of the Second World War, but other than serving as peace of mind the Jewish state had little to offer compared to many of the oil producing Arab states. He also argues that had the Palestinian refugees been allowed to return home, or at least recuperate some of their losses, the bitter resentment between Israel and Arab states would not have been so great, and would have possibly lessened the chance of further conflicts. Immediately after the conflict, Palestinian refugees were denied the right to citizenship of their host countries and faced being shot if they attempted to return home. This left them in a state of limbo, which today still goes on for many.
Pappe describes the aftermath of the conflict as a diplomacy nightmare. Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt had difficulty settling their borders with Israel and the Palestinian territories, because the Palestinian territories remained stateless and occupied by foreign armies. Pappe contends that although cease-fire treaties were signed, contingencies in the treaties left room future conflicts. The argument is fairly accurate.
Pappe's interpretation of the conflict is about as objective as they come, when one compares other books on this highly debated conflict. For example, in 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, historian Benny Morris' interpretation of the conflict rests on the grounds that, although there were atrocities carried out by Zionists, the atrocities were justified by Zionist obligates to secure a homeland for Jews. Morris' interpretation points to a wrong path and a right path and primarily uses Israeli state archives, as oppose to the wide array of sources pulled together by Pappe. Pappe's book does not point to a wrong path or a right path. It allows the reader to view the most critical faults and successes made by Israel, Arab states, and the other UN member states.
The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict is a thought-provoking book. Pappe doesn't leave his central theme or disappoint with dull and dry writing. Pappe's writing maintains a stimulating flow which is capable of captivating anyone interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948 or modern Middle East history in general.