The Best Books on the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts

Jared Kushner’s speech to several congressional interns has been making the rounds. Also garnering attention is his comment on how to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict:

So the two successes that we’ve had so far is—I don’t know if you’re familiar with the deal we’ve had on the water with the Jordanians and the Israelis and the Palestinians—so I was saying that they’ve talked about in concept for a lot of years where [unintelligible] and we were able to figure out how we were going to negotiate a solution which simply [unintelligible] talking for a very, very long time. But again, that happened just because we’re talking to all sides. We don’t let them get caught in the past.

You know everyone finds an issue, that “You have to understand what they did then” and “You have to understand that they did this.” But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on, How do you come up with a conclusion to the situation. That was one thing that we achieved, which we were quite happy about—which is, you know, small thing, but it’s actually a pretty big thing over there. But something that we thought was a pretty big step.

The other thing was working through, in this past week, it really showed us how quickly things can ignite in our history, and you have some people who don’t want to see and achieve an outcome of peace. And other people sometimes thrive in the chaos, and they thrive [unintelligible] and that’s not new to politics and it’s not new to that conflict. It’s just the way it is, and you always have people on all sides [unintelligible].

My point is that these things are very, very combustible and very, very delicate in terms of how you can do, but I think the fact that all these conversations were all done in quiet and nothing leaked out [unintelligible]. But I think we were able to keep things quiet. But I mean, any day something could happen.

So, what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know … I’m sure everyone that’s tried this has been unique in some ways, but again we’re trying to follow very logically. We’re thinking about what the right end state is, and we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.

The Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are indeed very difficult to resolve. But Kushner’s shrugging off of previous analyses and efforts and lessons learned (or not learned) is at best an ignorance of what has been said and done about them; has he really read all these books he’s dismissing? Certainly there are a lot of bad books (and bad commentary) on the conflict, but there is a lot of good stuff out there as well.

For Kushner or anyone else who’s interested, here are some very good English-language books to read on the conflict that provide important information on and insights into history, causes, narratives, emotional connections, politics, and goals. There are a lot more, to be sure, including articles and other short pieces. But in the interests of brevity these nicely cover all the ground. They are also among the least partisan or ideological.

Shlomo Avineri. The Making of Modern Zionism: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State. New York: Basic Books, 1981. Helps explain why Israeli Jews are so attached to the land and why their needs must be accounted for.

Ian J. Bickerton and Carla L. Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 7th ed. New York: Routledge, 2015. Balanced overview of the entire history of the conflict, with lots of extra but interesting details.

Neil Caplan. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Good summary of the positions and sensitivities of various actors in the conflict.

Alan Dowty. Israel/Palestine, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. Very good overview of narratives and histories of both sides.

Rashid Khalidi. Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Helps explain why Palestinians are so attached to the land and why their needs must be accounted for.

Fred J. Khouri. The Arab-Israeli Dilemma, 3rd ed. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1985. An overview of the Arab position in the conflict.

Dan Kurzman. Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War. Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1970. Multiple first-person accounts of the war, which helped lay the foundation for the contemporary condition.

Daniel C. Kurtzer, Scott B. Lasensky, William B. Quandt, Steven L. Spiegel, and Shibley Z. Telhami. The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013. Detailed examination of the American role in a specific period and lessons to be learned from lack of ultimate success.

Benny Morris. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, 2nd ed. New York: Vintage Books, 2001. Detailed history that highlights atrocities committed by both sides.

William B. Quandt. Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2005. Good summary of American efforts to resolve the conflicts.

Paul Scham, Walid Salem, and Benjamin Pogrund. Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue. New York: Routledge, 2016. A collaborative collection of thoughtful essays by people involved in the conflict, providing a nuanced discussion.

Gershon Shafir. Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914, updated ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. On the land question.

Mark Tessler. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Very detailed history.



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