Almost six decades after the U.N. partition of Palestine, ascription of blame for Palestinian refugees still resonates in Israeli academic discourse. Following the lead of Avi Shlaim, an Oxford University historian and "new historian," post-Zionists have exculpated the Palestinians for heeding Arab calls to leave. Shlaim argued in a 1988 book that King Abdullah I of Transjordan and Jewish leaders colluded to force the partition of Palestine and, therefore, bear responsibility for the refugee crisis that followed.[1]

In Israeli-Jordanian Dialogue, 1948-1953, Haifa University professor Gelber decisively refutes Shlaim's thesis by showing that the Israelis and King Abdullah did not aim to conspire against the Palestinians. He argues, rather, that, for the Israelis and Abdullah—who had deep-seated mutual interests and a long-standing bond—partition turned out to be the most viable solution to a thorny problem.

Relying on documents from Israeli and British archives (the latter of which include records of broadcast statements from Arab leaders), Gelber details the Zionist-Jordanian dialogue from the waning days of the British mandate through the 1948 war, to the Israeli raid on Qibya in 1953, which marked the end of the Israeli-Jordanian bond and Jordan's reunion with the Arab coalition. Gelber explains the nuances of the diplomacy among representatives from Israel, the United States, Britain, the United Nations, Transjordan, and other Arab states. His analysis spans both the political and military issues that shaped the Israeli-Jordanian dialogue.

The coverage of Transjordan's 1948 invasion of Israel sets the scene for subsequent examination of the tenuous occupation of the West Bank and the collapse of the Palestinian government in Gaza, which Gelber suggests had to do more with military than political developments. Several chapters examine the diplomatic efforts behind the first nonaggression pact and other attempts at peace from the end of the war through 1953.

Gelber highlights King Abdullah's struggle in balancing his necessary relations with Israel with those he had with the broader Arab world, hostile to the Jewish state's independence, while at the same time posturing himself as a representative of the Palestinians following the Egyptian subordination of Gaza.

Israeli-Jordanian Dialogue, 1948-1953 sheds light not only on an important historical episode, but it has historiographic significance as well. Too often, professors subsume scholarship to their own political agendas. It has become fashionable among many historians to substitute theory for research or omit evidence that undercuts their thesis.[2] Careful historical research such as Gelber's grounds the debate about the early years of the Palestinian refugee crisis.

[1] Avi Shlaim, Politics of Partition: King Abdullah, the Zionists, and Palestine, 1921-1951 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
[2] Efraim Karsh, "Benny Morris's Reign of Error, Revisited," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, pp. 31-42.