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  • Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo by Seth Anziska
  • Kenneth Stein (bio)
Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo, by Seth Anziska. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 435 pages.

This book emerges from a 2015 doctoral dissertation at Columbia University. Its main thesis is that there developed from 1977 to 1993 an intentional, though not quite conspiratorial, objective by a series of primarily American, Israeli, and Egyptian political leaders to thwart the evolution of Palestinian self-determination and the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Half of the book is devoted to the administration of President Jimmy Carter’s engaged support of Palestinian political aspirations; a third of the book focuses on the administration of President Ronald Reagan and the aftermath of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The remaining portion of the book is devoted to the late 1980s—how dialogue between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) merged in tandem with the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, then morphed into the Madrid Conference, and then the September 1993 Oslo Accords.

Quite correctly, the author notes that the Carter administration’s historic shift in American foreign policy in Arab-Israeli peacemaking embraced the concept of a Palestinian homeland and recognized “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements” (quoted p. 125). For the late 1970s, we are reminded that this promise was insufficient for the Yasir ‘Arafat–led PLO and the PLO Executive Committee. Instead, the author blames the United States, the leadership of an undefined “American Jewry,” unspecified American Cold War conservatives, and the Israeli government for the non-implementation of Palestinian self-determination in the 1977–93 period. We do not learn from this book that the United States devoted massive numbers of hours trying to persuade Palestinian participation in negotiations.

The question that author Seth Anziska does not fully answer is why the PLO was not ready when embraced by the Carter administration’s full foreign policy team. At the same time, there were no leaders in either of Israel’s major parties—Labor or Likud (“consolidation”)—that were willing to accept either Palestinian self-determination or a Palestinian state. In addition, both Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin were opposed to allowing the PLO to become a participant in negotiations; bringing in other Arab leaders to negotiations that would thwart Egypt and Israel’s main objectives of exchanging land for peace. Further, Israel would simply not permit a PLO state on its borders.

Anziska barely scratches the surface in telling the reader just how deeply committed the Carter team was to promoting Palestinian aspirations, even within the confines of Israeli opposition to their inclusion and Sadat’s impatience with them. One would have assumed that once Sadat went to Jerusalem in November 1977, the Carter team would have focused solely on not losing the possibility of an Egyptian-Israeli bilateral agreement. That was not the case. Archival material for US and Israeli sources show how relentless the Carter administration was in seeking Palestinian self-determination including after the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in March 1979.1 Two realities demonstrated the Carter administration’s continued support for Palestinian self-determination: first, its endorsement of the three United Nations Security Council resolutions in 1979 and 1980 that condemned Israeli settlement policy and characterized Jerusalem as occupied territory; [End Page 489] and second, repeated overtures to Yasir ‘Arafat to join negotiations (which continued into the Reagan administration).

In the historiography of the three major issues attempted for coverage of the 1977–93 period, this book is less valuable and not as comprehensive as those written by William Quandt, Ze’ev Schiff, Ehud Ya’ari, David Makovsky, and especially that of Yezid Sayigh on the Palestinian national movement.2 While the author carried out significant interviews with participants who were diplomatically engaged with the Palestinian issue in the 1970s and 1980s, a more complete view of American interactions with the PLO and ‘Arafat could have been presented with the highly detailed interviews with American diplomats found at the...


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pp. 489-491
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