Juliana Peck, argues in her book The Reagan Administration and the Palestinian Question: The First One Thousand Days that the Reagan administration, began by not recognizing the Palestinian problem to any degree that would satisfy the Arab states. Although Reagan eventually began to move toward a more conciliatory view of the Arab side she argues that by the end of the first one thousand days Reagan pulled back from this view and once again considered only cold war threats that existed in the Middle East.

The United States government refused to recognize the Palestinians as anything more than refugees. Therefore, any struggle against Israel was totally unfounded and any deaths that occurred from that struggle were at the very least senseless and at the very most outright murder. As a simple refugee problem, the answer remained simple. It was the responsibility of the surrounding Arab countries to absorb the Palestinian refugees and make them part of their individual societies. This was also the view of the corresponding Israeli government during that same time period. Peck did not indicate that the Israeli government at the time had any influence on Reagan’s view of the situation. The author argues because of the violence on both sides, because of Israel’s incursion into Lebanon, because of PLO terror against innocent Israelis, basically because of violent resistance on the part of the Palestinians  both in and outside the occupied territories, the government of the United States changed its policy to one of understanding that a nation of people were being denied some kind of self determining  status evidenced by the intractable situation of Israelis on one side and Palestinians on the other.

Granted, the Reagan Peace Plan never intended to create an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza—that has been reserved for later administrations. But it did for the first time recognize that Palestinians were entitled to some sort of home in the occupied territories. Peck emphasizes this point once her argument and chronology takes the reader that far. In other words by forcing Israel’s military hand and physically engaging Israel in violence whether specifically military or civilian centered, and ultimately drawing United States troops into the conflict as a peace maker between the two sides, forced the United States to drop its hard line against Palestinian aspirations. Simply, violence works.

The Middle East conflict is one of those subjects which require a great deal of circumspection. The conflict’s controversy and volatility requires critics to understand more clearly an author’s bias than other historical subjects. Therefore to accurately assess  Peck’s thesis we must look into several elements of how she wrote her book. How accurate did the author use the primary documentation she cited? Does she engage in selective history? Does she take an academic approach to the subject matter? Is she careful not to display any sensitivity toward one side or the other?

The first thing to look at to answer these questions is taking note of the publisher and in this case the publishing date might also be significant. The book was published in 1984. Generally, that would be too early to present an historical perspective for the Reagan presidency from 1981-1984. Writing so soon after events take place reveals less an historical perspective than a journalistic outlay of issues and answers to those issues. Historians who work in the modern period generally wait at least a decade or more before they begin to publish perspectives, not because they are not in a hurry but it takes that long for the writing process to mature into a viable sense of history. If that axiom is true then Ms. Peck, publishing in 1984, quite possibly began writing the book before Reagan’s thousand days had ended and was in a general hurry to get it in print. Why? Perhaps there was an agenda which worked on the assumption that Palestinians had no voice in the west accept through these kinds of academic channels, so it was necessary to publish theses that explain the Palestinian view. This might have been a motivating factor for Peck’s work.

The book was published by the Institute of Palestine Studies. This think tank located in Washington, Beirut and some other European capitals emphasizes a particular point of view. It is important to note that this does not disqualify The Reagan Administration and the Palestinian Question simply because it is identified with the Institute of Palestine Studies, nor does it invalidate the Institute of Palestine Studies. The organization has published many translations of the Arab side of the Middle East conflict’s story to the advantage and further clarity of historians who write and work primarily in English. However, it exposes the possibilities of bias on the part of the author which is clearly disposed toward the Arab side. The reader must take this into consideration when reading this book.

One example of this kind of bias concludes that Reagan actually went back to his original perceptions when his peace plan failed. This is not the view of other historians who argue that Reagan Middle East diplomacy by 1984 simply split off into two parts, keeping the Soviets from expanding their influence by showing Arab governments it is more profitable to side with the United States and working toward a viable peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Both parts of this policy promote more stability in the area which translates into decreased Soviet influence.

To conclude, when reading this book or any book on this subject it becomes necessary to heavily scrutinize the author’s perspective. In Peck’s case we can conclude that she successfully filled a need to present a Palestinian and not an American perspective on the first one thousand days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Jewish community examiner

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