Book Review

A Durable Peace
Israel and its Place Among the Nations

Benjamin Netanyahu
482 pages, Warner Books, 1993


This book, by a former prime minister of Israel, gives a pro-Israeli interpretation of the founding of the state of Israel and an impassioned defense of Zionism.

Between the lines of strained logic and the emphasis on the glory of Israel and Judaism that permeate this book, one can sense the fear that Israelis must feel, surrounded by hostile Arab territory 500 times their size. After September 11, it is a little easier for Americans to understand how 50 years of constant threats can serve to unify a people, and how living in constant anxiety at being overrun by barbarians intent on genocide could make a people unwilling to compromise with their adversaries or to consider alternative interpretations of history.

For example, Netanyahu gives many arguments why the Jewish territorial claim to Israel is valid, but overlooks an obvious one: if the Arabs claim that their conquest of Palestine in the 7th century gave them territorial rights, Arabs cannot turn around and deny that a conquest of the same land by some other ethnic group is equally valid. That is, the Arabs' viewpoint is inherently self-contradictory. The fact that the state of Israel was founded not by military conquest but by international agreement only strenghtens the Zionists' claim. The fact that the Arabs sided with the Nazis during World War II sealed the fate of their claim to drive the Jews from Palestine.

The early days between the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 were difficult ones for Jews and were characterized by British backtracking and a policy of appeasement of Arabs. Netanyahu has harsh words for the British in the days of Neville Chamberlain:

For over ten years the British shut the doors of the Jewish National Home to Jews fleeing their deaths. In so doing they not only worked to destroy the Jewish National Home, which no one believed could survive without immigrants, but made themselves accomplices in the destruction of European Jewry.
He also defends the terrorist activities of Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin's Irgun (National Military Organization) which bombed police stations, officer's clubs, prisons, and hotels, killing hundreds of innocent civilians in the years before Israel's creation. Instead of expressing regret for these incidents, Netanyahu chillingly calls these "military actions". The one-sided view of Netanyahu and his compatriots that terrorism on his side is `good' and terrorism by the other side is `bad' is unhealthy and tends to undermine efforts currently underway to suppress the practice of warfare carried out by groups acting as covert proxies for Arab interests and Middle Eastern states.

Netanyahu makes a convincing case that the endless violence in the Middle East is rooted in the desire of Muslims to restore their earlier status and empire, and their frustration at being unable, thanks to the superiority of the West, to continue the murderous rampage across Asia and Europe that characterized the earlier years of Arabic society. In Netanyahu's view, Israel is merely another symbol of Western dominance to the Arabs. Unable to unite or to develop their own societies, they commit vicious acts of violence against the West and each other. Since they do not accept the concept of the nation-state, they view Israel not as a small innocent country, but as part of `the West', a remnant of the Crusades that must be expelled.

He singles out Yasser Arafat for particular criticism as being a hypocritical, dishonest and cynical leader who has deceived America into believing that he wants only a homeland for his people, while his true goal is Israel's annihilation. He presents evidence that when the Palestinian Liberation Organization speaks about "liberating the occupied territories" it is not speaking of the West Bank and Gaza Strip occupied during the Six Day War, but the entire territory occupied by Jews, i.e. Israel. This conflicts with the widely-held view of Arafat held in America of Arafat as having reformed into a peacemaker.

If Netanyahu's views are correct, it means Israel's future will be a grim one. Arabs have made little social progress since the 12th century, and show little inclination to abandon their destructive and barbaric ways. If Netanyahu is right, nuclear conflict between the West and Arabs could be inevitable, and poor Israel will be on the front lines.

October 7, 2001 Back