Between 1947 and 1949, United Nations decisions changed the shape of the Middle East. The vote to partition Palestine into both Jewish and Arab states led to the birth of Israel and, soon thereafter, the battle for Jerusalem. Mandel works to elucidate the role played by H.V. Evatt, an Australian diplomat in 1947 who assumed the chairmanship of the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine Question.
Mandel explores Evatt's enigmatic qualities, especially his dichotomy of character. Described by contemporaries as an "altruist" and "visionary internationalist," Evatt was also seen as a "self-promoting and jejune amateur." Those he worked with found him hard to trust: "the Arabs felt betrayed [by Evatt], the Jews frequently questioned his fidelity to promises, and the Americans and British were often mystified or outraged." But Mandel portrays Evatt as unwavering in his commitment to partition, however inexplicable his reasons to contemporaries.
In 1947, Evatt knew little about the Jews, the Arabs, or Zionism, but he made friends and acquaintances on both sides of the debate over Zionism who influenced his views. He admired the former U.S. Supreme Court justice and staunch Zionist Louis Brandeis. In the end, Evatt came to be devoted to the creation of a Jewish homeland. He deemed the unity of Jews and Arabs not viable and thus took up the cause of partition.
At times, Mandel tries to conquer too much of both Evatt's personal story and the broader events surrounding the birth of Israel. His exhaustive detail is edifying, but it obfuscates the exploration of Evatt's role and motivation in both pushing the partition plan and shepherding through the U.N. a vote on the internationalization of Jerusalem. While Mandel is correct to emphasize the contemporary importance of the partitioning of Palestine, his decision to extend his discussion through the Oslo peace process dilutes the focus on what is otherwise a useful contribution to the history of Israel's founding.