Avi Shlaim’s ‘Israel and Palestine’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 31st December, 2009
As Thomas Friedman once aptly commented, commenting on the Middle East tends to be an intellectual desert, in which ‘charlatans and ideologues, hucksters and holymen, regularly opine and divine, unencumbered by facts, history or statistics’. So it is with considerable relief that I can recommend as my Book of 2009 Avi Shlaim’s Israel and Palestine (Verso, London, 2009), a brilliant exposition of the last 40 years of the Middle East tragedy that mixes academic rigour with literary fluency. An Iraqi-born Jew, Dr Shlaim is a Professor of International Relations at Oxford University and the author of a number of books on the Middle East, including a biography of the late King Hussein of Jordan. His new book is in fact a collection of essays, articles and book reviews written over a number of years, but it has been woven more or less seemlessly together and is full of insight as well as compassion. The writer belongs to the small but important revisionist school of Israeli history, which rejects much of the Zionist narrative, while accepting the right of the modern state of Israel to exist, in security. There is a wealth of telling detail — not least direct quotations from various Israeli Prime Ministers — and by the end of the book, one is not surprised that Dr Shlaim is horrified by the disproportionality of the Israel Defence Force’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (‘an eye for an eyelash’), which, he writes, ‘makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with an “utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”… Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighybours but military domination.’ If you only have time to read one book on the modern Middle East, I recommend that you read this one.