Review: The Anatomy of Israel's Survival

Leading political commentator Hirsh Goodman paints a pessimistic picture of Israel's immediate peace prospects


Blinded by a one-eyed man? Prime Minister Golda Meir with her persuasive Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan

Blinded by a one-eyed man? Prime Minister Golda Meir with her persuasive Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan

By Hirsh Goodman
Perseus, £17.99

There comes a moment when, if attempting an analysis of Israel's political and military dilemmas, you just have to get on with it hoping that, between pen and publication, nothing will happen - an intifada, a war, an assassination - that will make your assessment little more than footnotes to a volume of history.

Hirsh Goodman, journalist, author and now senior fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, is too experienced a hand to fall into the traps awaiting the unwary.

His insights and judgments on the issues confronting Israel are sharp, original and, in many instances, disturbing and challenging.

He is harsh about Israeli leaders, past and present. He believes Golda Meir, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, was blinded by Moshe Dayan's strategy, supported and expanded by Yigal Allon, of seeking to occupy the West Bank without settling it, while economically integrating its inhabitants. Golda Meir's government, says Goodman, "had all the arrogance of the old colonialists."

Menachem Begin's attitude was even worse, seeking total annexation of all the territories and the extension of Israeli citizenship to all inhabitants of "liberated Judea, Samara and Gaza" and ignoring the demographic bombshell lying at the heart of his policy. Goodman estimates numerical parity will soon be reached between Israelis and the Arabs of the territories, "after which the Palestinians will surpass the Jews."

He quotes Yasser Arafat, shortly after shaking the reluctant hand of Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, saying that the womb of the Palestinian woman was the Palestinians' best weapon.

It took 30 years after Begin for his Likud successor, Ariel Sharon, "realising that demography was Israel's biggest enemy," to pull out of Gaza "and shed 1.5 million Palestinians from the scales." That is about the only good thing Goodman has to say for Sharon.

He certainly has little faith in Prime Minister Netanyahu's peace-making (or any other) ability and even less in that of his coalition Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the former Labour leader. Looking back to their previous terms in office, he comments that "Barak was as disastrous a leader for Labour as Netanyahu had been for Likud." His assessment of Barak's character - egomaniac, manipulative, secretive and worse - borders on the libellous.

Goodman offers little confidence that these or any other leaders now in the public eye will take Israel through the threats from Iran, frustrate the delegitimisation campaign and find the path to a workable peace. But he does recognise in the Knesset wings capable young men and women who have visions and dreams of an Israel at peace.

He does warn that, if Israel is not destroy itself from within, its search for peace will have to take account of the religious Zionist camp, from which come the leaders of the West Bank settlers. But he does not explain how that can be squared with his haunting conclusion: "Peace is possible… but the risks are tremendous and it is going to take extraordinary leadership on the Israeli side to surmount them, convince the Israeli public that the price of peace is worth the risks, and actually carry through on whatever movement of Israeli population on the West Bank needs to be done."

Geoffrey D Paul is a former JC editor

    Last updated: 11:14am, August 30 2011