A comprehensive revisionist history of Israel’s foreign policy, insisting that an “intransigent,” often belligerent Jewish state mishandled relations with its neighbors.
Shlaim (International Relations/Oxford Univ.) has criticized the US’s allegedly anti-Arab policies in the past (War And Peace in the Middle East, 1994), and this book covers such diplomatic events unfamiliar to Americans as the 1978 Leeds Castle Conference in the UK. The title comes from early Zionist militant Ze’ev Jabotinsky, but Shlaim sees Jabotinsky foes like David Ben-Gurion assuming the same defensive, antagonistic attitude toward Arabs. For a century, Zionist policy courted and became associated with hated colonial and foreign powers, from the Ottomans and British to the Americans. Even if it weren’t a Jewish country slicing its thin dagger through the vast Arab and Muslim Middle East, Israel made itself (politically speaking) a foreign invader to be ejected, Shlaim argues. Sidestepping anti-Israel manifestations in the UN and Europe, Shlaim writes that “Israel had won wide acceptance, not only in the United States, for its version of the Arab-Israeli dispute: the violence of its opponents was ‘terror’; its own was ‘legitimate self-defense.’” A retaliatory raid on King Hussein’s birthday is thus “devastating.” While Shlaim documents his material thoroughly, many statements require explanation. For example: Shimon Peres had “a clearer appreciation of the declining utility of military force in the modern world.” Does the author mean that NATO wasted conventional military power in Bosnia because diplomatic formulas like “land for peace” are more effective, or does he mean that Peres, who brought Israel its nuclear weapons, thinks that nonconventional weaponry is less of a factor after the Gulf War and proliferation of missiles from China and the former USSR?
Carefully annotated, but Shlaim never solidly establishes his difficult thesis in this lengthy history.