The Road Not Taken: Early Arab-Israeli Negotiations

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9780195060669: The Road Not Taken: Early Arab-Israeli Negotiations

For five decades, the Arab world has technically been in a state of war with Israel--a pattern broken only by Cairo's Camp David accord with Jerusalem. No conflict in international politics has seemed more intractable. But for a few brief years after Israel's War of Independence, the Jewish and Arab states engaged in direct negotiations that came tantalizingly close to a permanent settlement. In The Road Not Taken, Itamar Rabinovich mines a wealth of new sources to reconstruct those critical talks, showing how close they came to success, and how their failure laid the grounds for the current impasse.
In the aftermath of the 1948 war, Rabinovich writes, the seeds of the present turmoil in the Middle East were sown: confused and debated borders, hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees, internal struggles over each government's political agenda. In 1949, the Arab world was divided as never before--Iraq and Transjordan were at odds with Saudi Arabia and Egypt--and each state wrestled with its own negotations with Israel. King Abdallah of Transjordan negotiated with Israel with an eye toward siezing what is now called the West Bank and--ultimately--the Hejaz in the Arabian Peninsula. The region's first military dictator, Husni al-Zaim of Syria, offered an intriguing, if illusory, opening, as he sought a permanent settlement with Israel so he could concentrate on internal issues. Zaim, the book shows, was allied to the U.S. intelligence community. Egypt approached the armistice talks with its own goals in mind, seeking the southern Negev desert and other gains. Behind the scenes stood the region's last imperial power, Great Britain, whose manipulations were suspected by all parties even where they did not exist. And farther back loomed the U.S., about to succeed Britain as the dominant Western power in the region. Within Israel, fierce debates raged over how to handle negotiations (echoing clearly in our own time), some favoring a settlement with Amman based on a recognition of Transjordan's annexation of the West Bank, others--like Ben-Gurion--advocating overtures to Egypt, as the region's most integrated and stable Arab state. With a keen analytical eye and detailed brushstrokes, Rabinovich paints a vivid portrait of these pivotal rounds of diplomacy from 1949 to 1952, showing how a permanent peace came within reach, only to slip away for years to come.
Rabinovich has long been one of Israel's leading scholars of Arab history, winning a reputation for incisive, even-handed works. Neither a militant Israeli nor a revisionist critic of Jerusalem's policies, he demonstrates that mistakes and preoccupations on the part of each nation led to the current quagmire. Drawing on intensive research, he not only alters our understanding of the current conflict, but he holds out hope for a future breakthrough by revealing the real possibilities and serious efforts that almost led to peace in the early years of Israel's existence.

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About the Author:


About the Author:
Itamar Rabinovich is Rector of Tel Aviv University, and is the author of The War for Lebanon, 1970-1985.

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