The New Israel: Peacemaking and Liberalization

Article excerpt

edited by Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000. 294 pp. $30.00.

The 1990s was a good decade for Israel. Agreements with Jordan and the Palestinians advanced the prospects of peace. The government continued on its road to economic liberalization, which involved greater opportunities for the entrepreneurial elements in Jewish culture that had been limited by the heavy hands of government and other national institutions. Business leaders reinforced the appeal of regional agreements not only as a road to peace but as a way to additional markets, investments, profits, and prosperity. Foreign investment increased. The average family's income moved upward, and the country reached middle ranking European countries in Gross National Product per capita. Two cars per family, health club memberships, and live-in help became the norm in upscale neighborhoods. The collapse of the Soviet Union not only lessened Israelis' fear of a major war with countries armed by the Soviets, but provided the country with one million immigrants that added to its human resources in technology and culture. Higher education mushroomed with the opening of numerous colleges that brought opportunities for earning a BA close to the doorstep of every citizen.

The collection of articles assembled by Shafir and Peled provide detailed descriptions of these processes and the linkages between them. Three chapters deal with the development of traditional Israel, composed of national institutions (Histadrut, World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency) and later a powerful government that together created the economic and social infrastructure, along with centralized controls that prevailed from the time of the British Mandate until the 1970s. Five chapters on liberalization describe the breakup of the Histadrut, structural changes in the country's labor force, efforts to end monopolistic control of telecommunication and energy sectors (more successful in the case of the former than the latter), enlarged civil rights, plus the attractions and problems of globalization for Israelis who were positioned to benefit more or less. Two chapters deal with the linkages between economic change and peace, up until the late 1990s, when the book's preparation concluded and the prospects for increasing wealth and peace seemed promising.

This is not a simple book, and is certainly not for the intellectually innocent. Along with rich and mostly credible descriptions of important economic and political events over a period that spans 80 years, there is an ideological perspective that speaks with certainty about clear and unattractive motives alongside details that support varied and contrasting interpretations. In some chapters the ideological overlay is lightly applied with an occasional adjective, or a sentence that stands apart from coherent description. Close to the end of an informative chapter on changes in telecommunications and energy sectors, David Levi-Faur writes, "The victims of the competitive regimes are the workers, and the agonies of the unfortunate victims, which have not been addressed in this paper, have to be taken into account as well" (pp. …