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Challenging the consequences of the political, social, and military miracles of the modern State of Israel, the author argues that the "Iron Wall" strategy of making Israel the dominant state in the region has not produced large-scale peace or prosperity in the Middle East.
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In 1897, under order of First Zionist Congress president Theodor Herzl, two Austrian rabbis travelled 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 programme 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 analyses 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 Organisation 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 McNameeFrom the Back Cover:
'A milestone in modern scholarship of the Middle East' Edward Said
In the 1920s, Zionists developed the doctrine of the Iron Wall: negotiations with the Arabs must always be from a position of military strength. Drawing on new material and interviews with many key participants, Shlaim places Israel's political and military actions under an uncompromising lens. Now updated with a new preface and new chapters on Israel's most recent leaders, Iron Wall is a fresh and informed account of one of the world's most intractible conflicts of modern times.
'Anyone wanting to understand the modern Middle East should start by reading this elegantly written and scrupulously researched book' Trevor Royle, Sunday Herald
'Fascinating ... Shlaim presents compelling new evidence for a revaluation of traditional Israeli history' Ethan Bronner, The New York Times Book Review
'One of the best and most illuminating accounts of Arab-Israeli relations in years' Yaron Ezrahi, Foreign Affairs
'Highly readable ... the best, most comprehensive and generally fair-minded diplomatic history of the conflict yet published' Benny Morris, Journal of Palestine Studies
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