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.
This history of Zionist-Palestinian conflict since 1948 points out that one third of the world's Jews now live in Israel and that the Zionist aim of making Israel militarily impregnable, behind an 'iron wall' which the Palestinians could not break, has been highly successful. The author believes that negotiations with the Arabs, however, can never be a solution to 'the Palestine problem' unless it recognizes the massive injustice suffered by the Palestinians since 1948 and becomes a dialogue with them about the restitution of Arab land. The necessary and widely acclaimed compromise between Israelis and Palestinians arrived at under the Oslo Accords of 1993 has, however, been deliberately undermined by those like Benjaim Netanyahu and his Likud government who, the author claims, have 'fallen in love with the iron wall' and wish to adopt it as a permanent way of life, even at the cost of the permanent subordination of the Palestinians. (Kirkus UK)