by Efraim Karsh
Yale University Press, 336 pp., $32.50
For a long time, the 1948 War was the defining event of the Arab-Israeli conflict. By the time the fighting ended in July 1949, the Jews had consolidated their control of a state with much more expansive borders than those drawn by the United Nations in 1947. The Arabs of Palestine did not fare as well. Instead of acquiring a country of their own alongside Israel, they emerged from the 1948 War stateless, fragmented, and dispersed. Since neither they nor the neighboring Arab states were prepared to accept the permanency of this situation, the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed destined to endure—until the Six-Day War in June of 1967 broke the stalemate. The swiftness and magnitude of Israel's victory, the extent of the territories captured, the ramifications for the Soviet-American competition in the Middle East, and the blow dealt to Pan-Arab nationalism all combined to overshadow the events of 1948.
Lately, however, the 1948 War and the problems it left unresolved have returned to the top of the agenda for both diplomats and historians. It is in this context that one has to situate Palestine Betrayed, the new book about the events of 1948 by Efraim Karsh, who heads the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies program at King's College, University of London.
To understand the renewed attention to 1948, we must first reconsider the complex outcome of 1967. With all of mandatory Palestine west of the Jordan River in its hands, Israel could conceivably have worked toward the creation of a Palestinian state along the lines of the one that was supposed to have been established in 1948. But the overall effect of the Six-Day War was to lessen the likelihood of such an eventuality. Many Israelis concluded from the crisis of May-June 1967 that it would be unsafe to return to the narrow prewar borders. A homegrown messianic movement that regarded the retention of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a sacred duty quickly took shape, generating bitter divisions in Israeli society.