Cover Page

Hot Spots series

Samer Abboud, Syria

Christoph Bluth, Korea

Kidane Mengisteab, The Horn of Africa

Amalendu Misra, Afghanistan

Gareth Stansfield, Iraq, second edition

Jonathan Tonge, Northern Ireland

Thomas Turner, Congo


Alan Dowty

Fourth Edition


This book is dedicated to


Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

Proverbs 31: 25-6


Can an introduction to the highly charged Arab–Israel conflict be “objective” and yet communicate the depth of emotions and humanity on both sides? Perhaps the goal is hopelessly naive, as modern theories of knowledge have repeatedly claimed; indeed, the very concept of objectivity has in recent decades been subjected to relentless attack. Yet it is precisely in the discussion of hotly contested issues, where it is hardest to achieve, that the subject refuses to go away. Perhaps it is an unachievable goal, but in my view that does not relieve us as scholars from the responsibility of trying to approach it as much as we possibly can.

The approach I have followed in this introduction to the clash between Israelis and Palestinians is to present the opposed perspectives in their full intensity, leaving readers to think through the claims and counterclaims for themselves. The analysis follows a conceptual framework that emphasizes the various approaches to resolution of the conflict.

The book assumes no previous knowledge on the part of the reader. It covers the basic features of the confrontation with a strong historical emphasis, since the very vocabulary of the conflict requires historical knowledge. (The text is followed by a chronology, as well as suggestions for further reading and Internet links.) But within this framework, it focuses on larger developments such as changing public attitudes on both sides, rather than the details of forgotten diplomatic episodes.

The original purpose in offering this account, as stated at the outset, was “to chart the origins and evolution of the conflict, to explore the different motivations and claims of those groups involved, and to discuss the prospects for resolution.”

I am grateful to Louise Knight and her fellow editors at Polity for their confidence and support at all stages, and to Susan Beer for her superb copy-editing. Since this book draws on the accumulated wisdom, such as it is, of over forty years of academic and personal involvement in the conflict, it would be pointlessly tedious to try to mention everyone who has had some influence, direct or indirect, on the content of these pages. I will simply mention those who read all or part of the manuscript and made useful suggestions, which I probably should have used more extensively: Sandra Winicur (as usual, my closest reader), Phil Mikesell, David Freeman.

Gail, my life’s partner, who was an extraordinary source of support through the first three editions of this book, is no longer with me for the fourth. But her presence is on every page.