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Reviewed by:
  • The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective
  • Susan Akram
The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective John Quigley Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005360 pp., $79.95 (cloth), $22.95 (paper)

There is no conflict in the world today whose solution is so clear, so widely agreed upon, and so necessary to world peace as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

—U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Beirut, March 2002

John Quigley aptly calls it "the longest-standing conflict in the history of the United Nations"—the apparently intractable Middle East conflict that continues to foster violence and instability, not only in the region, but around the world. But Quigley's revised and updated The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective, in clear language and persuasive legal argument, draws the conclusion that it is not unsolvable. Far from an intractable problem, Quigley argues, solving the Israel-Palestine conflict in a way that leads to a just and lasting peace is not a difficult proposition. A just and lasting solution, however, would have to be based on the recognized rights of those who live there, rather than driven by the power politics that continue to erode the possibility of permanent peace.

Quigley's book is a dispassionate, objective review of the key legal principles and rights underlying the Palestine-Israel conflict. The book layers the legal analysis over each critical historical event of a half century of conflict in the region, peeling away the myths of each event and substituting what is now the acknowledged historical-legal record. Quigley's review of historical events begins with the origins of Zionist claims on Palestine, the political maneuverings and formidable organizing that Zionist forces used ultimately to displace the British with Jewish control of Palestine, and the Zionist machinery put in place to cleanse Palestine of its native population. At each juncture of this early history leading to all-out war in 1948, Quigley examines the legal positions of the respective parties, their efforts through the United Nations and elsewhere on the world stage to promote those positions, and the political machinations that dispensed with legal rights at the barrel of a gun. Since the guns were, from the start, in the hands of the Zionists, and later the Israeli forces, the dispossessed Palestinians—mostly unarmed, totally disorganized, and without effective leadership—were doomed to be defeated in their struggle to maintain control of their land and their country. Quigley's review of the early historical record, and the legal issues that were placed in the hands of the United Nations on the eve of war, is a critical foundation to understanding subsequent events and the ongoing competition by the stakeholders to the conflict over their rights. Quigley separates legally grounded "rights" from "claims" that, although zealously promoted, have no basis in international law.

Among the questions the book examines are the following: Is this a conflict between two populations with equal rights to the same land? Did the United Nations have the power to divide the land of historic Palestine into two countries on the basis of ethnicity/religion/national identity? Did the Arabs initiate the 1948 war against Jews in Palestine? Did the Palestinian refugees leave on their own volition, were they ordered to leave by their leadership, or were they forced to flee—and do any of these reasons preclude their right to return to their lands? Is there a legally binding right of return for displaced Palestinians? Is an exclusive Jewish state in Israel/Palestine legitimate under international law? Is there a Palestinian right to self-determination, and, if so, in what territory is that right to be fulfilled? Is Israel an illegal occupier of Palestinian territories, or is it engaged in self-defense from Palestinian "terrorism"? Do Palestinians have a right to armed resistance under international law, and, if so, does it permit violence against Israeli forces, settlers, or Israeli civilians?

Clarifying the primary legal issues at the core of this conflict for a nonspecialist audience is not an easy task, as the legal questions are complicated. Some of the questions do not have clear answers, and their resolution depends on which view of history...


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