In this latest book, his fifth in English, Shemesh, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Ben Gurion University, makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of Arab politics in the decade before the Six-Day War. Well-referenced and injecting new Iraqi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, and Palestinian documents into the narrative, Shemesh's book challenges historians' conventional wisdom. He argues, for example, that the Palestinian issue was far more important to Arab states in the decade before the Six-Day War than earlier historians believed. He also dismisses the idea that the war occurred because Nasser's recklessness caused events to spin out of control. Rather, Shemesh suggests that the January 1964 Arab summit set the region down the path to war. In 1967, Nasser "marched to war open-eyed," believing Arab victory to be assured.
Shemesh also examines both internal Palestinian Arab dynamics and the interplay of Palestinian nationalism within intra-Arab relations of the period. Palestinian fida'i terrorism, for example, changed the dynamics of the Arab fight against Israel. No longer did Arab states alone seek to eliminate Israel on behalf of Palestinian Arabs; Palestinian groups began to take an active role in the fight against Israel. Shemesh argues that while, prior to the Six-Day War, Palestinian terrorism did not gain the prominence that it would in later years, by 1965, fida'i activity along Israel's borders with Syria and Jordan posed a serious security threat and hastened the war.
Arab Politics is a welcome relief from the trend by which Israeli "new historians" such as Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, and Neve Gordon eschew serious research for polemic. Shemesh may seek to revise the existing narrative, but he does so meticulously, offering evidence for each claim he makes. Nor, unlike so many of his contemporaries, is Shemesh afraid to document his work. He reproduces facsimiles ranging from a cover of Fatah's 1959 monthly Filastinuna; to a 1965 Jordanian military report on acts Palestinian terrorists might perpetrate against Israel; to a 1967 letter from Hafez al-Assad, at the time still Syria's defense minister, regarding Israeli troop movements.
While dry, Arab Politics is a necessary addition to any serious library or scholar's bookshelf. Shemesh deserves congratulations for breaking new ground.