Book Review: Enemies and Neighbours – Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017 by Ian Black

By Tim Llewellyn

This is a dispassionate book, written by someone who knows almost everything, about the tragic progress of Britain’s experiment with Zionism in Palestine to the present day’s existential horror. Black does not make judgments. His careful selection of sources and facts makes a neat footpath through the history. I was particularly interested in his reporting of early Zionist pioneers. Not many people know about them, nor of Britain’s interference ( Lord Palmerston) on behalf of the Jews in the early 19th Century, approaches the Sultan rejected. The British were in the protection racket long before you thought.

It is hard to write anything about the Middle East without bringing in  a rain of contumely from one side or the other, but I think Ian Black  has managed to be as fair as anyone can be. He knows the history. He speaks and reads Hebrew and Arabic. He has done the history and has no discernible axe to grind. I would say that for people who are interested in but not devotees of the Israel and Palestine case, this is the book to read: well written and leaving the readers to draw conclusions.

Now, I am going to draw one of mine.

I refer the reader to the anomaly of the Oslo Accords. Black quotes Meron Benvenisti, a Jewish intellectual, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem (fell out badly with Teddy Kollek), and expert on the city and its history and environs, talking of Arafat’s return to the Occupied Territory in 1994: “ Beside the shining symbols of “the Return” walked its shadow—submission to Israel’s overwhelming might and reliance on its magnanimity and willingness to assist…in the process of Palestinian nation-building.”

One of the people Arafat brought back with him, smuggled in in those euphoric moments, was Mamdouh Nofal, a former apparatchik and military leader in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, secular, tough and determined. Israel feared him and it. Mamdouh (as quoted by Black) sums up the Oslo case:

“It was this [belief in Oslo]conviction that led him [Arafat]—and the Oslo team— not to scrutinize the text of the Oslo agreement very carefully. He had supreme confidence in his ability to change the rules of the game after accepting them…”

As Mamdouh knew, and as members of the PLO Executive knew, the only people who knew how to make the rules, change them and break them as they saw fit were the Israelis.

“Enemies and Neighbours” Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017 by Ian Black is published by Allen Lane £25.00

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