- Israel under Siege: The Politics of Insecurity and the Rise of the Israeli Neo-Revisionist Right by Raffaella A. Del Sarto
In this thought-provoking book, Raffaella Del Sarto offers a detailed, personal, and grim account of the demise of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. More specifically, Del Sarto focuses on the Israeli side of the equation and follows the changing political landscape in the country during the first decade of the new millennium. Her main argument is that from 2000 to 2010 both the Jewish elite and public went through a collective process that ended up with the rise of what she refers to as "neorevisionist consensus about security threats" (cover), referring to the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement, which opposed partition favored creating a Jewish state in all of Palestine/Israel.
Invoking the concept of a "nation under siege" (p. 29), Del Sarto explains the demise of Israel's peace camp and the rise of the neo-Revisionist hegemony as an outcome of a chain of interlinked events. It began with the failure of the Camp David Peace Summit in the summer of 2000. Then came the statement by then–Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who admitted that he had failed and that the divisions between the parties were irreconcilable. Barak's conclusion carried much weight. After all, he was the leader of the peace camp. The traumatic experiences of the ensuing al-Aqsa Intifada scarred Israeli society. The deep divide between left and right that had reached its violent peak only five years earlier, with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, gave way to a consensual pessimistic and anxious worldview that led the Jews of Israel to rally around the flag of security. The Likud, and in particular Binyamin Netanyahu, who has led the party since 2005, emboldened these sentiments and amplified the magnitude of the threats that Israel faced. Together these processes cemented a hegemonic belligerent hegemony. The author concludes that these processes are likely to increase Israel's isolation both regionally and internationally.
Del Sarto offers a unique and valuable perspective. A European scholar and an activist, she learned both Hebrew and Arabic and spent many years working with Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, and with Israelis as a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She does not portray herself as an expert on Israeli domestic politics or history. Indeed, the book relies heavily on a relatively narrow scope of secondary literature in English. Interestingly, Del Sarto makes only a handful of references to works that represent the neo-Revisionist ideology that she explores. The book could benefit from the use of primary information, elite interviews and longitudinal surveys that are available online (e.g., the Peace and Democracy Indices of the Israel Democracy Institute, and the European Social Survey).
Del Sarto's engaging writing style reflects a genuine curiosity and a keen passion for understanding the circumstances that led to the derailment of the peace process between the people. Yet, her contribution exceeds the Israeli-Palestinian case. By underscoring the significance of domestic politics for foreign policy, the book adds an important layer to constructivist and critical schools of International Relations. Israel, a country that according to Henry Kissinger's old saying has no foreign policy, only a domestic one, serves as an exemplary case study for exploring the dynamic relations between internal and external political environments.
I have no doubt that the book will enlighten readers who are not familiar with the recent history of Israel's foreign policy, especially in the Palestinian context. For passionate supporters and opponents of Israel, it is likely to offer moments of satisfaction and discomfort alike. Advocates of Israel would probably challenge Del Sarto's decision to focus only on Israel, and as a result, to hold it solely responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. Indeed, despite Israel's advantageous position, analyzing the dynamics between multiple entities by [End Page 679] zooming in...