The state of the state, 60 years on

Timely his­tory pro­vides a clear con­text for the cur­rent cel­e­bra­tions of Is­rael’s 60th AHIS­TORY OF MOD­ERN IS­RAEL Colin Shindler Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press, £14.99 RE­VIEWED BY AHRON BREG­MAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

TH O U G H C O L I N S H I N D L E R ’ S i s not the first book on the his­tory of mod­ern Is­rael, his tim­ing is spot-on, co­in­cid­ing with the state’s 60th an­niver­sary. Shindler adopts a chrono­log­i­cal approach, trac­ing Is­rael’s his­tory across six decades, from op­ti­mistic be­gin­nings — im­mi­gra­tion, set­tle­ment, the cre­ation of in­sti­tu­tions — through its con­flicts with Arabs and Pales­tini­ans, to the present. From time t o time, he switches to a the­matic approach to ex­pand on such top­ics as “Who is a Jew”; “The ide­ol­ogy of oc­cu­pa­tion”; “Who are the Pales­tini­ans?” and so on. This shift­ing be­tween chrono­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive and spe­cific themes works well.

Reader in Is­raeli and Mod­ern Jewish Stud­ies at Lon­don Univer­sity, Shindler is a lead­ing spe­cial­ist on Zion­ist ide­ol­ogy and Jewish na­tion­al­ism, and this ex­per­tise is es­pe­cially ap­par­ent in his book’s rich and thor­ough open­ing chap­ters.

Less con­vinc­ing are the sec­tions deal­ing with rel­a­tively re­cent events, par­tic­u­larly the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian-Arab peace process of the 1990s. It is not en­tirely Shindler’s fault as, in con­trast with Is­rael’s ear­lier his­tory — where there is abun­dant archival ma­te­rial, and a great many books and ar­ti­cles — there is rel­a­tively lit­tle on the mod­ern era.

This obliges the writer to turn to press re­ports, a much less re­li­able foun­da­tion for a book and po­ten­tially a source for er­rors. Thus, for in­stance, while it is true — as Shindler points out — that for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu’s friend, the US busi­ness­man Ron­ald Lauder, met Pres­i­dent As­sad to dis­cuss peace (not twice, as Shindler says, but 10 times in 1998), Ne­tanyahu never agreed, in this se­cret chan­nel, con­trary to what Shindler tells us, to with­draw from the Golan Heights to the June 4 1967 border.

Nor, we should add, did for­mer Prime Min­is­ters Yitzhak Rabin and Shi­mon Peres, again con­trary to what Shindler claims, prom­ise As­sad to with­draw to the 1967 line. They all talked in terms of an Is­raeli with­drawal from the Golan to a “mu­tu­ally agreed” line “based” on the 1967 border (as, later, did Ehud Barak) or they re­sorted to such word­ing that would en­sure that Syria had no ac­cess to the pre­cious wa­ter of the Sea of Galilee.

When it comes to Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace talks, Shindler rightly refers to the im­por­tant “Clin­ton Pa­ram­e­ters”, the US Pres­i­dent’s peace pro­posal to Prime Min­is­ter Barak and Chair­man Arafat in De­cem­ber 2000 (af­ter the col­lapse of the Camp David sum­mit).

Ac­cord­ing to Shindler, Barak ac­cepted the deal while Arafat “re­fused to re­spond to Clin­ton’s pro­pos­als. In­stead he went trav­el­ling”.

This is in­ac­cu­rate. For, as Shindler rightly says, while the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment on De­cem­ber 28 2000 of­fi­cially ac­cepted the Clin­ton Pa­ram­e­ters as a ba­sis for end­ing the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, the Prime Min­is­ter, on Jan­uary 1 2001, phoned Clin­ton to say he could not ac­cept the deal be­fore the gen­eral elec­tion.

As for Arafat, he in­deed trav­elled… to Wash­ing­ton, where he met Clin­ton on Jan­uary 2 and re­jected the pa­ram­e­ters.

Th­ese mat­ters are crit­i­cal as they are still at the heart of Is­rael’s on­go­ing dis­putes with the Syr­i­ans and the Pales­tini­ans.

Apart from th­ese oc­ca­sional flaws, A His­tory of Mod­ern Is­rael is a lu­cid and timely ac­count and cer­tainly ap­pro­pri­ate read­ing at this mo­ment of the 60th an­niver­sary. Ahron Breg­man is the au­thor of Elu­sive Peace, the com­pan­ion book to a three-part BBC TV doc­u­men­tary

PHOTO: AP

Zion­ism in ac­tion: pre-state vol­un­teers in Pales­tine

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