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Kimmerling, a sociologist at the Hebrew University, has long been identified as one of the leading figures in the "post-Zionist" movement, perhaps better called the anti-Zionist movement—a small group of tenured far Leftists, including Ilan Pappé, Avi Shlaim, Oren Yiftachel, Uri Bar-Joseph, and—until recently—Benny Morris. His coauthor, Migdal, is a political scientist at the University of Washington. The book is a slightly amended version of a study first published in 1993.[1]

Its first half deals with what Kimmerling and Migdal regard as the history of the development of the Palestinian "nation" and its evolution. It provides some historic background but with a slant that renders it untrustworthy. Yes, Arabic-speaking people have lived in an area known as Palestine since the early days of Islam, and there were Arab tribes around even earlier. Yes, in the 1800s, some Arabic-speakers in Palestine participated here and there in rebellions and turf battles. For example, local sheikhs and effendis backed the local pasha when he revolted against the suzerainty of his Egyptian overlord Muhammad Ali in 1834. For the authors, this constitutes evidence of emerging Palestinian nationhood. But why did these Arabic-speakers refuse to join the "Arab Revolt" in World War I, instead remaining loyal to the Ottoman Empire? (To this day, Turks remember the Palestinians as the empire's most loyal Arab subjects.) In fact, the sense of a Palestinian nationality dates back only to 1920 when Britain created it.[2]

Jews trickled in and out of Palestine for millennia but Jewish immigration picked up in the 1880s. Their financial capital and modern skills created job opportunities and modern amenities such as hospitals. These attracted Arabs from neighboring countries to migrate to Palestine. By 1948, the bulk of those later to be labeled Palestinians were members of families who had been in Palestine for three generations or less, comparable to the Jews. Serious scholars have analyzed the evidence for Arab in-migration.[3] But readers of The Palestinian People are not even informed that there is a debate over the issue.

That the population of Jordan is predominantly Palestinian raises questions that Kimmerling and Migdal simply avoid. Why were the inhabitants of the Jordanian-ruled West Bank not in need of self-determination on June 4, 1967, but desperately in need of it a week later? Do Palestinians only develop the need for self-determination when they happen to fall under Israeli control? The answer is that Palestinian "self-determination" was a post-1967 invention, encouraged by Arab states as a fig leaf for their continuing campaign against Israel.

The second half of the book consists mainly of a discussion of the Oslo years. The authors pose as balanced critics of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but their mask of neutrality quickly falls. They consider Israel the main reason why Oslo failed, faulting Israel even for Palestinian violations, and accepting Palestinian claims at face value. For example, they assert that the so-called "tunnel episode" of 1996 started because Israel opened up a tunnel that ran under the Temple Mount. But as anyone remotely familiar with the episode knows, the tunnel in question does not run under the Temple Mount at all, but outside its periphery.

From these chapters, one also discovers how Israel was the obstacle to a final peace accord, and even Ehud Barak's offer to Arafat at Camp David II was little more than a sham. There is not the slightest recognition that Arafat began ordering terrorist strikes on Jews almost as soon as the Oslo accord's ink was dry. Nor is there any citation of the damning evidence Israel collected during Operation Defensive Shield.

In sum, The Palestinian People: A History, bears the wrong subtitle. It should have been The Myth.

[1] Under a different title: The Palestinians: The Making of a People (Free Press, 1993).
[2] For more information, see Daniel Pipes, "The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine," The Middle East Review, Summer 1989, pp. 37-44.
[3] For example, Fred M. Gottheil, "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 53-64