Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993, by Yezid Sayigh. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. xliv + 692 pages. Notes to p. 841. Bibl. to p. 912. Index to p. 953. $99.
Reviewed by Rashid Khalidi
This book is likely to be the last word on the topic of Palestinian armed struggle, both because there is little to say beyond Yezid Sayigh's extensive chronicle and analysis, and because it examines a phase of Palestinian history that has definitively ended. Even if some of the names he mentions are still familiar ones in the post-Oslo (1993) era, these people are no longer the fiery young clandestine nationalist revolutionaries described in this book. Many have become aged, conservative bureaucrats and policemen far more likely to be engaged in negotiating with their erstwhile foes in Israel and the Arab countries than to be fighting them.
Armed Struggle and the Search for State examines the post-1948 development of the Palestinian national movement through the prism of "armed struggle," the slogan raised by the Palestinian nationalist factions to describe their military action against Israel. This work is monumental for reasons which go far beyond its hefty size, because of the intensive research involved, including more than 400 interviews carried out over 15 years. and the comprehensive utilization of the literature on the Palestinian national movement since the 1950s. Few authors could have brought to this task the necessary expertise and personal experience, combined with a critical faculty and apparently inexhaustible patience. The result is a work that combines an acute assessment of the performance of the Palestinian national movement until the Oslo accords of 1993 with a detailed chronicle of the evolution of Palestinian political life during those years.
Because he knew, worked with. or served alongside, so many of those he interviewed for this book, and retained their respect, Sayigh was able to elicit information which few other scholars could have. His personal involvement in many of the events he describes, moreover, gave him a singular and profound perspective on them. The product of this prodigious effort is comprehensive and complete, and may, indeed, be unique in terms of its combination of careful scholarship and an inside perspective.
For many years, much writing on Middle East history and politics was the work of scholars with a deep involvement on the Israeli side. These included former officers in the intelligence services, diplomats and scholars who were able to obtain privileged access to policy-makers and closed Israeli archives. …