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  • From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949
  • Sanford R. Silverburg (bio)
From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949, by Victor Kattan. London and New York: Pluto Press, 2009. xxix + 261 pages. Maps. Notes to p. 367. Bibl. to p. 387. List of individuals to p. 395. Gloss. to p. 402. Index to p. 416. $54.95.

Beginning with a provocative rather than descriptive title, Victor Kattan has produced [End Page 150] the strongest case for Palestinians in their quest for political recognition that has appeared in recent times. Kattan, a Sudanese national with Anglo-Palestinian parentage and currently a teaching fellow at the prestigious Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, brings to the table an erudite if polemical advocacy in an interesting fashion. This extended position paper is more of an attack on Zionism and its proponents' efforts to develop a political organization for the Jewish people in ancient Palestine than it is an argument for the Palestinian cause based upon evidence from Palestinian sources. The arguments put forth are placed in the context of international law as it was understood in the early part of the 20th century, occasionally borrowing later developments to support a position ante and framed with historical interpretation. The primary focus is the case for self-determination for Palestinian Arabs and condemnation for the Zionists' taking of what is believed to be a rightful patrimony. The beginning date of the historical development, sub-titled 1891, we learn from the Chronology was the initiation of Arab —and not necessarily Palestinian —opposition to Jewish immigration to what was to become Palestine.

The book begins with a discussion of anti-semitism, sensitively handled, in combination with the goals of British colonialism and political Zionism, both of which are intertwined and thus in the contemporary intellectual climate subject to disparagement. As most observers of the history of the region know, there was no outlined political entity of Palestine until the British, maneuvering along with its European counterparts, artificially carved out of the defeated Ottoman Turkey's territory something that it could control for larger imperial interests. Kattan then delves into the intricacies of diplomacy, recognized as often devious. The Balfour Declaration, along with the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, and Sykes-Picot and Feisal-Weizmann Agreements, are scrupulously examined with interpretations heavily weighted by parliamentary commentary, and minutes in diplomatic correspondence as well as anti-Zionist statements made by Jews and non-Jews. The British Mandatory authority comes under attack at numerous points in time and subject, generally for an overall failure to recognize the rightful position of the indigenous Arab population, which when connected with territory becomes the basis for granting what the Allied governments pronounced as a part of the liberal democratic theme in the post-World War I period, national self-determination. There is the requisite full discussion of the inter-communal conflict during the Mandate period, followed by a rather one-sided analysis of the 1948 War that ushered in the overall Arab-Israeli conflict and was the major cause for the displacement of Palestinians from their residence. The conditional status of Palestinians who, for a set of causes, failed to remain in situ, is taken up by the author without, however, a determination of their legal status and hence referred to as "refugees."

The remaining portion of the book deals with the dastardly "creation" of Israel as essentially a zero-sum game that left the Palestinians with no politically recognized status found in all historical treatments of the events that follow the British Mandate. In a concluding shot, Israel is placed in a context of how it has failed to live up to its international legal obligations since becoming a widely recognized state.

While the references employed are encyclopedic, including original and secondary material, there is a dearth of relevant Palestinian Arab sources. This point, perhaps minor, is intriguing since there was a Palestinian lawyer's society active during the period and certainly other Arab legal sources —as opposed to commentary —have abounded subsequently. Interesting from...


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