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The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World by Avi Shlaim

by Venky


The whole world stands polarised on the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine/Arab world. While one section of the population attribute this raging disquiet to Israeli obduracy, the remaining section remains firmly entrenched in placing the blame squarely on Palestinian/Arab obstinacy. This tome by Avi Shlaim endeavours to clear the cobwebs and strike at the very heart of the matter.

Subsequent to the de-classification of many documents and archives by the Israeli Government, a select group of authors, popularly termed the “new historians” strove to set the record straight. Foremost among them being Benny Morris, who also is credited with coining the term “new historiography”. The other constituents of this group were Ilan Pappe, Simha Flapan and Avi Shlaim. In this impartial, intuitive and intricate work, Avi Shlaim works hard to provide an insightful view of the complex muddle racking two sets of people. A muddle that has at its roots the sophisticated philosophy of one of Zionism’s founding fathers Je’ev Zabotinsky. Zabotisky advocated the construction of an “Iron Wall” that would firmly secure Israel’s place on the Planet, behind the refuge of which he proposed a mechanism of negotiation for conflict resolutions. But as the author brilliantly portrays in his book, every single political administration of Israel while resolutely pulling its might behind the construction of the Wall, fecklessly failed to address the second half of Zabotinsky’s concept.

Scuppering every available overture extended by the Palestinians for peace, scuttling all available mechanisms to succeed at the negotiating table and slaying umpteen windows of opportunity for lasting peace, Israel has singularly succeeded in its obstinacy in not only thwarting genuine hopes, but also in spawning a new breed of violent opposition in the form of Hamas and Hezbollah. The callous and indifferent attitude of a recalcitrant United States is also glaringly exposed in the open. The world’s oldest democracy has employed its Veto Power in the United Nations on a whopping 42 occasions in support of seemingly irrational Israeli strategies.

Whether it be the intransigent Golda Meir’s “kitchen cabinet”, or the hawkish Ariel Sharon’s “farm forums”, all policies fostered and pursued by Israel towards its neighbours have led to restlessness and relentless tension. The Arab world also has to shoulder a considerable amount of blame in their approach to tackling the Palestinian issue. Covert supply of arms, open instigation of “intifadas” or terrorist attacks and firing of the Russian made Katyusha rockets into Israel, has exacerbated rather than alleviating the grief of over 3 million hapless Palestinians clustered in and around West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Targeted assassinations, mushrooming of illegal settlements, demolition of homes and public welfare institutions have become an all too common, albeit unfortunate feature of Middle East politics. The historic and landmark Oslo accord signed by the visionary Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat lent a fleeting glimmer of hope for long lasting peace and cordiality between two warring factions. However a clinical and calculated butchery of the accord by Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon has ensured that the situation has reverted to the dreaded status quo.

This book demonstrates with reeking clarity the ways and means by which deliberate intransigence can prevail over honest intentions. So long as such intransigence constitutes the very DNA of the political establishment of all the parties to the controversy embroiling the Middle East, peace will only be an ephemeral wish and a non existent dream. An issue which seemed irreconcilable will transform into one that is intractable. Meanwhile thousands of innocent civilians continue to be slaughtered while their inexcusable loss of life is defended under the garb of patriotism, nationalism and collateral damage.

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