June 22, 2010

International law and the colonisation of Palestine

I've been trying to condense my thoughts about a book I read recently titled, From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1891-1949 and now I don't have to because I've just read a review that I couldn't have put better myself. It's in Electronic Intifada:

Zionism, it was proclaimed in the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, "aims at the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine to be secured by public law." The choice of the words "public law" was a compromise between the delegates representing different streams of political Zionism. As David Vital explained in The Origins of Zionism, one branch of Zionism wanted to explicitly refer to the "law of nations," while the other was willing to make do with "law" only (364-370).

Law, or to be more precise, international law, has always been central to political Zionism. After all, international law reflects the aggregation of the agreements, opinions and interests of those who decide what the law is. There is little doubt that when the Zionist Congress met in 1897, the law was what the imperial powers decided was law. In order to create a new political entity, one needed the recognition of those powers, and the recognition of the law to gain legitimacy. Hence the centrality of law to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Yet at the same time, most of the Palestinian arguments and demands are based on international law. This leaves a lot of ambiguity about what the law is, its interpretation and how it interacts with other historical events and political realities. Victor Kattan's new book From Coexistence to Conquest attempts to clear up this ambiguity.
The full review is here. And here's the Amazon comments section. And here's the front cover:

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