At a time when Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to halt their warfare, recognize each other as individuals and as nations, and begin a dialogue for peace, Mark Tessler provides an in-depth study of the origins of their conflict. A HISTORY OF THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT has not only met well with literary critics but also has had the fortune of being lauded by Israelis and Palestinians on the one hand, and by Jews and Arabs on the other, as a fair and objective account.
As Tessler explains in his preface, the book aims to provide a framework for thinking about the cumulative meaning and eventual resolution of the lingering dispute. He approaches the Israelis and Palestinians as people who both have legitimate and inalienable rights. These rights and aspirations cannot be understood properly if seen exclusively, or even primarily, from the perspective of the present-day struggle. Tessler asserts that the past—full of violence—need not determine the future and that the Israeli-PLO accord signed in September, 1993, confirms that a basis for peace exists.
Tessler cites attitudes, perceptions, fears, and symbols—rather than the incompatibility of existential interests—as the most important obstacles to the achievement of peace. He gives evidence supporting his belief that the success of peacemaking efforts will primarily depend on finding ways to address the psychological and emotional dimensions of the dispute.
Tessler has divided his study into five parts. He opens with a description of the congruent origins of modern Zionism and Arab nationalism, in which he dispels the common misconception that the current struggle is an extension of an ancient feud. He emphasizes that it has been less than a century since Jews and Arabs began to view each other as enemies. He then addresses the emergence and history of the conflict to 1948; the “routinization” of the conflict from 1948 to 1967; the Palestinian dimension from 1967 to the Camp David Accords of the late 1970’s; and he concludes with a section on the high price of stalemate.