As it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, Israel could count many important successes. Its population, six million, was ten times that of 1948. One third of the world's Jews were now living in Israel, speaking the Hebrew language that had been confined to the liturgy when Zionism was born. In its central aim of providing the scattered Jews ...
As it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, Israel could count many important successes. Its population, six million, was ten times that of 1948. One third of the world's Jews were now living in Israel, speaking the Hebrew language that had been confined to the liturgy when Zionism was born. In its central aim of providing the scattered Jews with a haven, instilling in them a sense of nationhood, and forging a modern nation-state, Zionism has been a brilliant success. These achievements are all the more remarkable against the background of the appalling tragedy of the Holocaust. However, the conflict with the Palestinians, and with the Arab world at large, casts a long shadow over Israel's history. Israel's relationship with the Arabs has been marked by war and uneasy peace. What was promulgated in the 1920s as an "Iron Wall" strategy - dealing with the Arabs from a position of unassailable strength - was intended by its architects to yield a further stage where Israel would be strong enough to negotiate a satisfactory settlement with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbours. This Iron Wall has been constructed but the goal of comprehensive peace in the Middle East remains elusive. One of Avi Shlaim's aims is to explain how and why this is so. In this book, Shlaim places Israel's political and military actions under an uncompromising lens. He traces a pattern of policy from the goals of the early Zionists, through the wars that have marked much of Israeli history, to recent efforts to construct peace. This book draws on a great deal of new material which not only brings events alive, but also leads to fresh assessments and a better informed, more critical understanding of one of the world's most intense and intractable conflicts of modern times.
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Publishers Weekly, 1999-08-23 Optimism about the prospects for a Middle East peace agreement has accompanied the recent election of Ehud Barak as Israel's prime minister, but if this book is any indication, the war over Israel's history is likely to rage on. Shlaim (War and Peace in the Middle East, etc.) is a leader among revisionist historians who are challenging Israel's most cherished myths about itself: that it has been a peaceful nation forced into war by bellicose Arab neighbors incapable of accepting its existence. A professor of history at Oxford, he covers relations between Israel and the Arabs from Israel's 1948 War of Independence to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's electoral defeat this past May. Rarely have as many fresh details been presented together about Israel's inner political scene and the Jewish state's contacts with the Arab world in its early years. Shlaim ably sets out the belief, shared by Israeli leaders of all political stripes, that the country had to build up an "iron wall" of strength and security in order to bring Arab leaders to the negotiating table (Shlaim himself thinks the iron wall was a mistake). But Shlaim's revisionist enthusiasm too often gets the better of him: he fails to marshal the necessary evidence to support his contention that Arab rulers were "prepared to recognize Israel, to negotiate directly with it, and even to make peace with it." Shlaim's explanations of Arab political constraints, especially the pragmatism of Arab rulers relative to the extreme anti-Israel sentiment of the Arab street, is illuminating. But his view of Palestinian terrorism as a reaction to Israeli militarism is far too simplistic. Revisionism is one thing, but Shlaim employs a double standard: while he tends to view Israeli leaders, most notably Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as villains, he heaps praise on the "realism" of Arab leaders. A comprehensive, balanced history of Israel's history with its Arab neighbors needs to be written, but this is not it. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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