Syria: Syria and the Palestinians: The Clash of Nationalism

Article excerpt

Syria and the Palestinians: The Clash of Nationalisms, by Ghada Hashem Talhami. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001. ix + 220 pages. Notes to p. 232. Bibl. to p. 240. Index to p. 257. $55.

Syria and the Palestinians is a balanced account of what has hitherto been a tangled and torturous relationship between two pivotal Arab actors. It is simultaneously an analysis of the impact of the question of Palestine on domestic Syrian politics, of the confrontation between the Syrian and Palestinian geopolitical agendas, and of each side's attempts to outmaneuver the other in a quest to control the Palestinian component of the ArabIsraeli conflict.Yet although Ghada Talhami explains the Syrian-Palestinian conflict in mainly realpolitik terms, especially with reference to Syria's perennial "quest for geographic coherence and strategic security" (p. 212), she nevertheless maintains that this conflict was ultimately anchored on an ideological fault line, namely the dissonance between the Ba`th's pan-Arab nationalism and a more local Palestinian nationalism.

The book opens with a reconstruction of the process through which historical Syria was steadily vivisected in response to British and French imperial designs. In her survey of this process, Talhami supplies numerous historical apercus of contemporary relevance, such as the implications of the 1922 Paulet-Newcombe agreement on Syria's water rights in Lakes Tiberias and Houleh, or Shaykh `Izz al-Din al-Qassam's revolt and its later resonance in the annals of Palestinian resistance. The narrative then moves to the effects of the 1948 War on Syria. Talhami traces Syria's domestic instability in the 1950s, and the ascendancy of the military establishment in the political arena, to the country's involvement in this war. Although she traverses familiar ground, Talhami employs wonderful biographical sketches to detail inter-Arab rivalries contributing to the 1948 debacle, including a rewarding description of Fawzi al-Qawuqji's efforts on behalf of the Palestinian cause, and draws on a host of Arabic sources to document Syria's instability after 1948. Talhami then surveys the efforts of Arab states to manage and co-opt the Palestinian movement after 1948, namely through the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. …