Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

By Peter Y. Medding | Go to book overview

Mastering the Middle East: Israel
in a Regional Context
David W. Lesch (ed. ), The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and
Political Reassessment
. Boulder: Westview Press, 1996. 437 pp.
Yazid Sayigh and Avi Shlaim (eds. ), The Cold War and the Middle East. London and
New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 292 pp.
Gabriel Sheffer (ed. ), U. S.-Israeli Relations at the Crossroads. London: Frank Cass,
1997. 227 pp.

Four “isms” in effect govern Israel's basic orientation toward the external world in this commemorative fiftieth year. Lingering notions of the Jewish state's exceptionalism are the first, with the choices falling antithetically between either an optimistic “light unto the nations” mind-set or its pessimistic “fortress Israel” counterpart of “a nation that dwelleth alone. Narrow tunnel-vision parochialism emphasizing Israeli national security above all other considerations, both at home and abroad, qualifies as the second tenet. Third is the short-term pragmatism of national leaders: from David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, through Menachem Begin at Camp David and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, to Binyamin Netanyahu's 1997 endorsement of the Hebron accords and his “Allon plus” formula for a final-status territorial compromise with the Palestinians. And finally, there is pro-Americanism, the bedrock of Israeli foreign policy.

Forgiving the uneven quality of their contributions (a problem that afflicts most edited collections of essays), the three books under review, when taken together, provide a healthy corrective to conventional thinking about Israel and the world. Each in its own way clarifies these four pillars of Zionist statecraft and, by so doing, helps to put diplomatic efforts by Israel within their proper regional and international context.

Above all, the authors insist upon treating Israel as unexceptional. Like other Middle Eastern regional actors, it, too, defends against outside encroachment and seeks to promote its own national interests. And like them, Israel on balance has been more affected by developments close to home than by global transformations, including the Cold War.

In addition to functioning both as a geopolitical and cultural bridge, Israel in particular and the Middle East in general seem destined by the marketing strategies of book publishers to be perennially positioned at any number of fateful but overworked metaphorical “crossroads. The central theme of all three books is that with the end

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