Israel was created by tough but pragmatic leaders, who were willing to compromise to establish a nation with a Jewish majority. As a result, Palestine has been partitioned, and, Amos Perlmutter suggests, Israel has been deformed. The thesis of his book is: "Palestine has been actually partitioned three times -- in 1947, in 1967, and again after 1973 -- and each time by the use of force."

The original Zionists did not dream of using force; the state-makers did. Perlmutter tells a story of Zeev Jabotinsky, an early Zionist leader who wanted the future Jewish state to occupy all the Biblical land on both sides of the Jordan River. Jabotinsky was a godlike mentor to young Menachem Begin. At a meeting in Warsaw in September 1938, Begin proposed that the Revisionist Zionism movement, which Jabotinsky led, create a military organization to achieve its aims. Jabotinsky rebuked his disciple, saying, "Mr. Begin, please be seated and be silent. Our movement will not tolerate terror or military formations which are neither legal nor legitimate."

History worked out differently. Jabotinsky died in exile in the United States in 1940. In Palestine, Begin commanded the Irgun or Etzel which devoted itself to forcing out the British by arms and by terror. Begin's men hanged two British sergeants in reprisal for the execution of Etzel members and blew up Jerusalem's King David Hotel.

This detailed, often repetitive book by a professor of political science at American University is one of the stream of writings trying to explain Zionism's tortured, fractious history. It contains no new facts, but it spells out the eternal, tedious squabbling among modern Jews -- the same kind of squabbling that helped destroy the Jewish state in A.D. 70.

Israel: The Partitioned State tells the complex, tangled story of the fierce combat between the two strains of Jewish leadership -- one dealing in fantasy, the other in possibilities. From the beginnings of modern Zionism, the Jabotinsky-Begin strain (Revisionist Zionists) believed in the dream that the Jewish state must encompass all the Biblical land of the Jewish people. The Chaim Weizmann- David Ben-Gurion strain (Socialist Zionists) accepted the pragmatic principle of compromise that would divide the land between the Jews and the Arabs who lived there. Jabotinsky and Begin opposed partition; Weizmann and Ben-Gurion accepted what Perlmutter calls "an amputated Palestine."

In the beginning, Theodore Herzl, the dreamer and writer who articulated the modern Jewish state, had no thoughts about boundaries. In a way, Winston Churchill is presented here as the first villain. In 1921, as the British Colonial Secretary, he split off the land east of the Jordan River as Transjordan -- today's Jordan. That immediately shrunk the land left to be bargained over and partitioned.

The British ruled Palestine until 1948 and devised a series of partition plans. None worked. In November 1947, the United Nations divided the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. The pragmatic Zionist leaders led by Ben-Gurion agreed to that partition in order to establish the Jewish state. But the U.N. partition was stillborn when the British marched out in May 1948, and the neighboring Arab countries attacked. The fighting shaped the reality of the first partitioned state of Israel.

The second version of partition was hammered out in the Six Day War of June 1967. The Israelis ended up holding the West Bank section of Jordan, the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. An emotional political battle erupted between those Israelis who wanted to exchange conquered territory for peace with the Arabs and those who insisted on the settlement and "the permanent annexation of all the conquered territories."

The shock of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the election of Begin as prime minister four years later created the third partition. "Israel since 1977 has been a society in transition," writes Perlmutter. The third partition returned the Sinai to Egypt and accepted the concept of autonomy but not sovereignty for the Arabs on the West Bank. But it failed to achieve anything like final boundaries.

"This government was the first in the history of Israel to reject partition and the pragmatist policies allied with historical evolution of the partition state." It intended to keep all of the land west of the Jordan and "preclude the formation of a Palestinian state." Through Prime Minister Begin's rhetoric and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon's ruthlessness, Perlmutter says, "Israel came unglued in Lebanon."

He concludes, "The truth of the matter is that Begin left Israel, the nation, in a state of confusion, and as shaky and battered as it has been in a long time. . . . Menachem Begin's legacy, aside from the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and Camp David, is a legacy of failure." How Israel came to that failure is the story of this book.

"The 1984 National unity government could not change the deeds of the previous Likud-dominated govenments," Perlmutter adds. So that is where Israel stands today: internally bitterly divided, her relations with the Arabs of Palestine unresolved, with no final boundaries and with peace still depending on her military strength.

Amos Perlmutter sums up: "If (Israel) was meant to be the country to dump poor Jews into, paid for by rich Jews, in some ways that is what it has become."