A Genealogy of a Non-Event: An Interview with Seth Anziska

Seth Anziska, Mohamed S. Farsi-Polonsky Lecturer in Jewish-Muslim Relations, University College London. Credit: Helen Murray.

In Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo (Princeton University Press, 2018), Seth Anziska throws new light on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the unfulfilled Palestinian quest for statehood. The Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement brokered by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 has long been hailed as a diplomatic triumph that set the Middle East on a path toward peace. However, drawing on newly available sources in the United States and Israel, as well as international collections, Anziska argues that the Camp David Accords actually came at the expense of Palestinians. Refusing to recognize the Palestinians as a nation deserving of the right to collective self-determination, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin introduced the concept of limited “autonomy” for the “Arab inhabitants” of the West Bank and Gaza. Begin’s formulation flew in the face of the stated position of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. And yet both he and Carter accepted it for the sake of securing Israeli-Egyptian peace. As Anziska demonstrates, the autonomy model proffered by Begin at Camp David would cast a long shadow over future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, serving as the basis of the Oslo Accords negotiated in 1993 and continuing to inform the role of the Palestinian Authority today. Anziska documents this history of roads not taken, offering a “genealogy of a non-event”—the prevention of Palestinian sovereignty.

In the following interview, Anziska and I discuss a range of issues, from the current Israeli political climate and the future of the Palestinian national movement, to the methodological challenges confronting historians of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the stakes of writing history that is informed by personal experience.

Daniel Chardell

Credit: Princeton University Press.