The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback)

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9780393321128: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback)

"Fascinating. . . . Shlaim presents compelling evidence for a revaluation of traditional Israeli history."―New York Times Book Review

As it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the State of Israel could count many important successes, but its conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world at large casts a long shadow over its history. What was promulgated as an "iron-wall" strategy―dealing with the Arabs from a position of unassailable strength―was meant to yield to a further stage where Israel would be strong enough to negotiate a satisfactory peace with its neighbors. The goal remains elusive. In this penetrating study, Avi Shlaim examines how variations of the iron-wall philosophy have guided Israel’s leaders; he finds that, while the strategy has been successful, opportunities have been lost to progress from military security to broader peace. The Iron Wall brilliantly illuminates past progress and future prospects for peace in the Middle East. Illustrations, maps and photographs

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Review:

In 1897, under order of First Zionist Congress president Theodor Herzl, two Austrian rabbis traveled to Palestine to explore the possibility of locating a Jewish state there. "The bride is beautiful," the rabbis cabled Herzl, "but she is married to another man." That "other man" was the Palestinian Arab nation, long established in the region as a political entity. Undeterred, Herzl pressed on with his program of emigration, ignoring Palestine's existing occupants and creating in the process what came to be known as the "Arab question."

In this far-ranging history, Avi Shlaim analyzes that question in remarkable detail, tracing the shifting policies of Israel toward the Palestinians and the Arab world at large. Herzl, he writes, followed a policy that consciously sought to enlist the great powers--principally Britain and later the United States--while dismissing indigenous claims to sovereignty; after all, Herzl argued, "the Arab problem paled in significance compared with the Jewish problem because the Arabs had vast spaces outside Palestine, whereas for the Jews, who were being persecuted in Europe, Palestine constituted the only possible haven." This policy later changed to a stance of confrontation against the admittedly hostile surrounding Arab powers, especially Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; this militant stance was a source of controversy in the international community, and it also divided Israelis into hawk and dove factions. The intransigence of those hawks, Shlaim shows, served to alienate Israel and made it possible for the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab nationalist groups to enlist the support of the great powers that Herzl had long before courted. Both sides, in turn, had eventually to face the "historic compromise" that led to the present peace in the Middle East--a peace that, the author suggests, may not endure. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Avi Shlaim is a professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2006. His books include Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace; War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History; The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World; and Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations. He lives in Oxford.

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