From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949

In This Review

From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949
By Victor Kattan
Pluto Press, 2009
544 pp. $54.95
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This veritable "Brandeis brief" of facts and law makes the case that in terms of international law, the Palestinians repeatedly got a raw deal in the period from the rise of Zionism to the creation of Israel. It is a convincing argument, but is the story of those years best told in terms of the use and abuse of international law? True, states and would-be states usually present their actions in terms of law and justice, and the ensuing discourse is a useful part of the historical record. And yet, the United Kingdom's contradictory commitments to the Zionists and the Arabs are better understood using a realist, rather than a legal, reconstruction. The same would hold for making sense of the mandate system, the partition plans for Palestine, and the intensive U.S. involvement of 1946-48. Ironically, plaintiffs putting others on trial in that elusive court of international law risk being diverted from adopting policies more likely to succeed. Kattan, moreover, presents the problem too much in terms of outside actors ("It was European anti-Semitism and British colonialism which caused the conflict in Palestine"). This unduly downplays the role of those Zionists/Israelis and Arabs who were intimately involved.