The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1947-51, by ILan Pappe London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 1992, 324 pp.
The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1947-51, by Ilan Pappe.
London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 1992, 324 pp.

This book provides an intelligent guide to the causes and events leading up to the 1948 war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, to the war's after¬math in terms of Israeli government diplomacy and the policy of the sur¬rounding Arab states and, overall, the developments leading to the fate of the Palestinians up to 1951.
Indeed, a key point of Ilan Pappe's is that the "fate" of Palestine and its peo¬ples was "determined" - in terms of the international forces involved, United Nations committees, the internal manipulations of the Arab states, the pre-¬state potential of the Jewish Yishuv population, and so on - before the 1948 war ever began: " ... it now seems clear that the fate of the war was decided by the politicians on both sides prior to the actual confrontation on the battlefield" (p. x); "determined ... long before even one shot had been fired" (p. 271).
As said, this book is an intelligent guide, written from the point of view of a Middle East historian, certainly one of the best brief histories of polit¬ical and diplomatic relations of those involved in the 1948 war, and yet there is a ('new historian') flaw in the study. The problem is not, strictly speaking, with the theoretical or methodological approach, but that the major postulate of the study is over-determined.

Israel's No-Lose Future

The material presented leads Pappe to his main argument here that it is not relevant why Israel accepted the U.N. resolution for partition (Pappe rejects Flapan's Machiavellian thesis in his book The Birth of Israel, that Israel accepted partition" ... as a tactical move intended to pave the way for further territorial expansion through war whenever possible"). More relevant is whether or not Israel faced the danger of annihilation at that time (pp. 45-46).
That the Jewish Yishuv (population) need not have feared turns out to be undeniable, certainly as Pappe spells out the long list of positive features of this society against Arab states and Palestinian shortcomings and failures in the chapters that follow. The question, however, would seem to be at what time prior to and following the decision for partition was the Yishuv lead¬ership secure in its evaluation of victory? Not at all secure, I should think; neither before, nor in the beginning and only barely in the middle of the war; they were secure only when the events and circumstances were in place, secured by internal force and external backing and guarantees.
As the chapters build up, the sense of a no-lose future for Israel is under¬lined. The Haganah military units multiplied; the Jews had a "master plan" (Plan Dalet); the Jews prepared themselves for takeover; a provisional gov¬ernment was in place before May 15. Meanwhile, Palestinian society was internally divided, the Arab states appropriated the Palestinian cause for their own ambitious ends and, in brief, "The Jewish structure facilitated smooth transition from autonomy to statehood whereas the Arab structure was hardly sufficient to provide the needs of an autonomous community, let alone an independent state" (p. 67).
And, since prior to, and during the official war, the Palestinians were never the main Arab fighting force, they consequently had little to say in political matters (p. 73). Along with Israeli victories, the Palestine tragedy took form: hundreds of thousands fled, and/ or were expelled, to become refugees.

The Opposing Forces

Pappe joins the debate, and takes sides, on the "Arab Exodus: Expulsion or Flight?" question, by emphasizing that Plan Dalet was a key factor in that "exodus." This was not a plan for specific expulsion, but for the "destruction of the other party to the conflict" (p. 91), and, concretely, "If the upper class¬es left voluntarily, it does seem that the lower strata of the Palestinian society were driven out through the implementation of Plan D ... " (p. 96). If Plan D is to be regarded as a master plan leading to expulsion, Pappe also recognizes other factors: the Palestinian elite abandoned its constituency; the British did not fulfill their role of keeping law and order; the Deir Yassin massacre.
Critical to Pappe's text - here in terms of the war's outcome from its very beginning, as far as each and both sides were concerned - is his estima¬tion of the opposing military forces. Thus, Pappe contends that while offi¬cial Israeli historians write of five invading Arab armies upon the declaration of Israeli statehood in May, 1948, these armies consisted of no more than 23,500 men in addition to 12,000 irregulars (Palestinians); that is, 35,500 reg¬ular and irregular Arab troops faced a similar number of Jews, and when the hostilities ceased in January, 1949, each side had recruited altogether 100,000 soldiers. In other words, on the eve of the war, the balance of power, in favor of the Jews, "was perfectly known to the Arab side; the Arab leaders had hardly entertained any illusions about the outcome of the war" (p. 112).
The "outcome" is indubitable when we add the understanding King Abdullah reached with the Jewish Agency: that he took upon himself only limited objectives for his army, not to speak of the "collusion" wherein the West Bank was recognized as Transjordanian, while on his part Abdullah would not attempt to occupy part of the Jewish state. Rightly, Pappe does retreat from the deterministic hook by adding, "The lack of a written agree¬ment means of course that we shall never know whether this 'promise' was intentional or the result of circumstances" (p. 131). However, he immedi¬ately returns to the bedrock of incontrovertible foreknowledge: "The indis¬pensability of the Legion to a successful Arab war effort was known to the Jewish side; so were Abdullah's objectives. Even without a clear sense about the Legion's plan for the war itself, the newly-born Jewish state thus knew it would not be facing a formidable force ... " (italics added) (p. 133). In brief, for Pappe, what is politically manipulated is central; the rest, including bloody Arab-Jewish clashes, "incidental" and ''belong rather to the microhistory of the war" (p. 133).

Providing Only the Facts

The final six chapters mainly treat the efforts and failed efforts that went into cease-fires, armistices, peace commissions and conferences. These chapters are equally informative and, moreover, in my understanding have the additional advantage of not pressing for historical necessity. Abdullah kept his part of the tacit understanding and, all in all "the Israelis had little difficulty in confronting the rest of the Arab units" (pp.140-141).
I agree with Pappe when he writes, "The fighting was to end only after the Israelis had decided that they had accomplished their goal of occupy¬ing as much as possible of western Palestine without jeopardizing their understanding with King Abdullah" (p. 134). However, this was policy in action when victory was in hand, and not a decision reached "before the battles began."
The most important decisions taken, as I see them, followed the dictates of Ben-Gurion. His supporters fell in line, more Arabs were forced out of the soon-to-be-Israeli territory, 400 villages were "erased from the face of the earth," and Israel took the position that repatriation was an impossibility.
As far as putting the blame for the failure of the endeavors for peace, Pappe is for trying to "provide only the facts." It is too bad that he rarely analyzes the underlying propositions and controversies for the policies that might have been, or for that matter, for those adopted, given the polit¬ical complexity of Jewish society in 1948-49. The "facts" (which are really "the facts" after they take place) do not at all explain this complexity. We are offered only one hint at the possibility in a single sentence: "At the same time, however, we would also point to the alternative courses of action which were open to all involved but which were not followed." This is undeniable since, "One thing we do know for certain - the course cho¬sen brought in its wake more violence, close to a. million Palestinian refugees and no peace for either side" (p. 136). However, and this is Pappe's error, "the course chosen" (a political decision) and the "determined fate of the war" (hindsight) are not one and the same. But (for reasons which are not absolutely clear to this day), U.S. pressure lifted and, with the armistice agreements in hand, Israel reneged on its acceptance of repatriation.
The claim then, that the Palestinians had lost the war before it even began is, I believe, over-determined. The least of the problems in this approach is that, in terms of hindsight, which is difficult to fault, this is the way it turned out. However, I do not believe, as Pappe appears to, that the sole task of the historian is to organize causal factors in such a manner so that those who were "making history," even if they had been aware of the fac¬tors, necessarily, or conceivably, should have had the end results firmly in grasp. The simple point is that "causal" factors become effectively causal only over time; they appear, develop, are clarified in terms of a process. While the developments are taking place, are "in process" as it were, their outcome is uncertain, equivocal: new forces, external and internal pres¬sures and struggles, and so on, are implicit, alternatives may arise. For example, the United States could have supported repatriation, either gen¬eral or partial, immediate or in stages, postponed its financial aid, placed pressure on U.S. Jewry, and so on.

Other Possibilities

More important, the historian who insists on an overriding end-result or necessity, loses sight of many other issues which may be, indeed were, and still are in the instance before us, no less world-shaking than losing the war. The Palestinians might well have "lost" the war before it began, but they need not necessarily have lost all their land, their property, become refugees. Dozens of other possibilities were open at the time for dozens of other alternative outcomes.
As an outcome of warfare, hundreds of thousands fled the country or were expelled; their becoming refugees, their not being allowed to return, was, on the other hand a matter of political decision by the Israeli government (Ben-¬Gurion and his supporters). Not at all a necessary outcome of warfare and of "losing a war," the fates of those who fled or were expelled could have been, should have been, different. Indeed, the entire internal and external political matter of how such a fateful decision of non-return of the Palestinian people, of land-takeover, and so on is missing from the study. This is so, I believe, because such momentous circumstances were not foreseeable, could not be entertained as "necessarily" following "a lost war," and such an interpreta¬tion, if presented, necessarily would have been mechanical.
In spite of his thesis, Pappe's book is first rate. His claim on the order of "fates being decided before the first shots were fired" stems, I think, from his associating himself with the "new historians" (p.20). Refusing to be "mystified" by rhetoric and as masters of newly-opened files from this or another archive, they insist that they are writing objective history. That is, they see collusion and disingenuity as the motor forces of history, the forces that determine fates, even before the processes that develop out of the forces are set in motion ... A great deal of their fact-finding represents first-rate investigative reporting. Why they think that (all?) the "old historians" were unaware of many of the important facts they raise is never made clear. They hasten to show the hidden agendas that seal fates and believe that one or another fact from an up-to-now closed file contains the answer to it all. Thus, they fail to come to grips with intensive political, social and personal strug¬gles grounded in a historical political economy carried out by parties, groups, movements and classes for the priority of their stands. Such complex matters are not to be reduced to a determined end-product.