Sela and Ma`oz: The PLO and Israel

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VOL. 28

1998/99

No. 1
P. 104
Recent Books
Sela and Ma`oz: The PLO and Israel
FULL TEXT

    This is an anthology of fifteen papers, prepared for a conference organized on the thirtieth anniversary of the PLO by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
    The papers, written by contributors who are mostly Palestinians and Israelis, are grouped into four parts that deal with the rise and evolution of the PLO, the regional and international environments of Palestinian-Israeli relations, the Palestinian uprising and the rise of local leadership, and the history and future of Palestinian-Israeli relations. The papers on the history of the PLO amply cover the subject: from why the Palestinians--Arab nationalists--found it necessary to engage in distinctively Palestinian "ethnonational mobilization" and armed struggle to the evolution of the PLO into an emerging national authority and the evolution of its peace policy over a period of twenty years. There is unnecessary overlapping between two of the papers, Muhammad Muslih's "A Study of the PLO Peace Initiatives" and Manuel Hassassian's "Policy and Attitude Changes in the PLO." It would have been preferable if one of these papers were replaced by one on leadership and policy conflicts within the PLO because this part of the book focuses on the PLO mainstream at the expense of dissenting elements, to which it pays only scant attention.
    Part 2, dealing with "regional and international arenas," is rather selective. It covers the PLO's relations with the Arabs, the Soviet Union, and the United States, but it ignores the PLO's important relations with the third world, Europe, and the United Nations. Barry Rubin's paper on U.S. policy toward the PLO attributes Washington's animosity entirely to Palestinian misbehavior--PLO "terrorism and ideology prevented it from making headway with the U.S. government" (p. 143)--and ignores the enormous influence of the pro-Israeli lobby in shaping U.S. Palestinian policy. 
    Part 3 on the rise and influence of local activists deals with one of the most interesting aspects of modern Palestinian nationalism, the split between "outside" and "inside" Palestinians. However, after narrating the increasing influence of the "inside" as a result of the intifada, the papers fail to account for the ability of the "outside" wing of the national movement to overwhelm the "inside" as the PLO began the transformation into a Palestinian national authority after Oslo.
    The final part, on the past and future of Palestinian-Israeli relations, is persuasive in explaining Israel's past reluctance to recognize the PLO and deal with it. However, its treatment of future possibilities favors an overly theoretical discussion to a more enlightening analysis of political dynamics that influence public opinion and policy orientations.
    Such analysis would have made the final chapters more useful in helping the reader anticipate the future course of the peace process and Palestinian-Israeli relations. For example, what is the future of the contest between Zionist ideology and the Israeli national interest? Will new generations of Likud members be more pragmatic and less dogmatic in their attitudes toward the Palestinians and the other Arabs? Is the Israeli political system likely to produce a future majority that would make government less dependent on coalitions with small religious parties? These questions have much relevance to Israel's future ability to normalize its regional relations and therefore its ability to work out true reconciliation with its regional adversaries. The book does not raise these questions and thus falls short of answering concerns about the future nature of Israel-PLO relations.
    By integrating Palestinian and Israeli perspectives and by tackling issues both sides consider vital to their concerns, the book sheds much light on the Palestinian-Israeli relationship and the potential for reconciling historic antagonisms. It has shortcomings, even some minor factual errors (Baghruthi instead of Barghouthi, p. 62; Madrid conference in 1992 instead of 1991, pp. 74 and 84), but it is not without merit as an effort to add to our understanding of a complex relationship between two people who are trying to change their relationship from a zero-sum game to one of interdependence.

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Muhammad Hallaj, a political scientist who taught in U.S. and Arab universities, is a member of the Palestine National Council and was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Arab-Israeli peace talks.