Ian Lustick, Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza (Cornell, 1993).

Since the Oslo agreement was signed by representatives of the Israeli government and the PLO in September 1993, the contest over defining the legitimate domain of the newly established Palestinian Authority has persisted. And following the August 31, 1994 announcement of an Irish Republican Army ceasefire, Sinn Fein is still demanding its own right to a place at the negotiating table to discuss the future of the north of Ireland and reunification of the island. Unlike the PLO and the IRA, two of the few remaining national liberation organizations from the anti-colonial period whose political and territorial issues have yet to be settled, Algeria’s National Liberation Front, which ruled the country from 1962 to 1991, has found itself in a bitter, brutally violent conflict with Islamist movements seeking social reform and political power. The contemporary situation of these anti-colonial structures is compellingly instructed by Ian Lustick’s history of deliberations and calculations of former and persistent imperializing powers — Britain, France and Israel — concerning their changed and changing relations with their dominions — Ireland, Algeria and the West Bank and Gaza respectively.

Central to Lustick’s analysis is the premise that “variation in the shape of states is politically consequential” (3), and his book addresses each of the premise’s components: variations, states and political consequences. That analysis draws importantly on Gramsci’s theories of ideological hegemony, elaborating a model of thresholds to explain a state’s consideration of its political sway and its physical boundaries, as well as who or what to include or exclude, and what influences a state to expand or contract. The first such threshold, according to Lustick, is the “regime threshold,” or the “point at which a government interested in relinquishing the area finds itself more worried about civic upheavals, violent disorders and challenges to the legitimate authority of the governmental institutions than with possible defections from the governing coalition or party.” The second threshold is that of “ideological hegemony,” when the “absorption of the territory ceases to be problematic for the overwhelming majority of citizens of the central state.” (45) Part of the problem, that is, involves the home (or metropolitan) constituency and its acquiescence in a “consensus.”

Unsettled States, Disputed Lands began as an attempt to delineate the options available to the Israeli government in response to domestic and international pressures on its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. To annex or not to annex; to expand or to contract. Had settlement of the Occupied Territories reached a “point of no return”? Had the Palestinian intifada incontrovertibly altered the status quo? Lustick puts these two “inexorable logics” — the “so-called irreversibility of Israel’s absorption of the West Bank and Gaza versus the so-called inevitability of Israeli disengagement from those territories,”(351) — to a comparative test with the cases of France/Algeria and Britain/lreland .

Israel’s dilemma thus frames Lustick’s work. The histories of Britain and Ireland from 1834 to 1922 from Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal of the Union movement to partition, and France and Algeria from 1936 to 1962, make up the central portions of the study. If the idea of Repeal of the Union with Ireland was anathema to British politicians and public opinion alike in mid-nineteenth-century England, by the time the issue of Irish Home Rule was introduced in the 1880s the question was no longer “whether or in what form to maintain the political relationship of Britain to Ireland, but how to enforce the law in Ireland in the face of widespread and potentially violent disturbances.”(61) Similarly in France, in the middle of the twentieth century debates developed dramatically over the nature of the connection between “France’s great power status and the future of its former empire.”(89) L’Algerie, c’est la France — or not? Partition ensued in the one case, decolonization in the other.

Unsettled States, Disputes Lands is at once cultural history and political theory. Drawing on parliamentary debates, travelers’ accounts, popular journals, international exhibitions and literary testimony, Lustick reads the evidence in such a way as both to make a case for his theory and to exemplify a methodology that radically combines the disciplinary imperatives of model building and cultural studies. Opening with observations on the altered global map following in particular the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the study closes with speculations on the new lines still to be drawn on that map: from the Maastricht Treaty and a United States of Europe to separatist movements in Canada and Morocco, and including the ongoing conflict in former Yugoslavia. Unsettled States, Disputed Lands historicizes these new geographies of struggle and problematizes their future in usefully provocative and insightful ways.

How to cite this article:

Barbara Harlow "Ian Lustick, Unsettled States, Disputed Lands," Middle East Report 194-195 (July/August 1995).

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