Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza

By Bing, Anthony | The Middle East Journal, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza


Bing, Anthony, The Middle East Journal


Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza, by Ian Lustick. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1993. xiv + 451 pages. Appends. to p. 456. Notes to p. 564. Index to p. 576. $19.95 paper.

Reviewed by Anthony Bing

Ian Lustick's Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza is an attempt to construct a theory to explain why and how states expand and contract. Using the examples of the relationship between Britain and Ireland in 1834-1922 and between France and Algeria in 1935-62, he attempts to illuminate the issues of state expansion and contraction in Israel. Using his model, he predicts that Israel will not stabilize its relationship with the territories it now occupies without disengaging from them, and that the outcome of the expansion-contraction process will less likely come from an agreement with the Arab world than as an outcome of a struggle among Jews inside Israel.

The book was written before the Oslo negotiations, the Rabin assassination and the recent victory of Benyamin Netanyahu. If his theory is plausible, these recent events, which some might find surprising when viewed from a 1993 perspective, are not, in fact, unpredictable. It is often claimed that the only thing predictable about the Middle East is its unpredictability; however, one of the stimulating aspects of Lustick's analysis is his attempt to make order out of what often seems to be chaos. He does this by asserting that the nature of truth regarding the boundaries of a state is not absolute, not a given, but always contingent.

Thus, from the very beginning of his study, he claims that neither withdrawal nor annexation are "inevitable" with respect to post-1967 Israel's relation to the West Bank and Gaza, nor is any political situation "irreversible." (In the Middle East, and, in fact, throughout the world, the "unthinkable" is often "thought," the "irreversible" is often changed.) What interests Lustick is how "embedded beliefs shape outcomes by excluding certain questions from appearing before the public as relevant" (p. 43), i.e., how ideological hegemony is established, and how states expand and contract when "ideological hegemony" and "regime thresholds" are crossed in contexts that are always subject to change. The regime threshold is reached when "a government interested in relinquishing the area finds itself more worried about upheavals, violent disorders and challenges to the legitimate authority of governmental institutions than with possible defections from the governing coalition or party" (p. 45).

Lustick draws his threshold arguments from Antonio Gramsci, and uses Gramsci's terms "wars of position" and "wars of movement" or maneuver to explain the process whereby England ultimately separated itself from Ireland, and France separated itself from Algeria, after having failed to absorb these territories into their respective nation-states. ("A `war of position' entails political competition over which ideas and values will be accepted by leading strata of a state as the ,concrete fantasy' that will achieve hegemonic status.... Wars of movement', on the other hand, refer to the direct clash of interests that surround acute crises, when governments or regimes can change hands as a result of illegal or semi-legal actions by political groups" [p. 122]). Thus, Lustick sees the relation of Great Britain and Ireland as having moved: In the 1830s and 1840s the idea that Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom achieved ideological hegemony; in the 1880s, wars of position over the question of

Home Rule for Ireland crossed the ideological hegemonic threshold; and in 1912-14 wars of maneuver crossed the regime threshold and led Great Britain to withdraw not only its opposition to Home Rule, but also to Irish independence (except for the six counties of Northern Ireland). …

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